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Duke Blue Devils pay tribute to military in season opener

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jon LaDue
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
While many college campuses across the country began their regular football season September 1 with typical pre-game chants, cheerleaders and the occasional mascot cart wheel, the Duke University Athletic Department opened its gates in a special way. Marking the start of the college football season and paying tribute at the same time, the Duke Blue Devils, for the fourth consecutive year, have given thanks to the men and women of the armed services in their annual Military Appreciation Game. 

The team made a point to include as many military members in the crowd as they could by offering free tickets to members of all the services in the surrounding area. 

"We wanted to show appreciation for them and what they do," said Bart Smith, Duke's director of promotions. 

Although the free tickets were the biggest part of showing thanks, Duke also paid tribute by hosting the Marine Band from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., who performed pre-game and during halftime, a flyover by an Apache Helicopter from the North Carolina National Guard and the Army's Golden Knights from Fort Bragg who landed mid-field before the start of the game. 

John McNabb, a Duke alumnus who served in Vietnam as an Air Force Aviator, presented the opening coin toss. 

Mr. McNabb graduated from Duke in 1966 after playing four years for the Blue Devils and being named to the All-American team as an offensive lineman in 1965. 

Following graduation, he commissioned into the Air Force as a B-66 Bomber aviator and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters for actions during the Vietnam War. 

Mr. McNabb said he was more than proud to represent all prior Duke Alumni who have served in the Armed Forces. 

"I played here and I love this place. It was a great honor," Mr. McNabb said.
Being a veteran himself, Mr. McNabb said the military appreciation game was very special. 

"I really appreciate the young men and women who are serving. I appreciate their dedication and (the) sacrifice they're giving to the country," he added. 

Perhaps the most touching moment was during half time when Duke Athletics presented a retired football jersey, number 52, to Army Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Program at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. 

Colonel Gadson lost both of his legs to an improvised explosive device while deployed in support of the War on Terror. Duke and Connecticut players and fans alike roared throughout the stadium following the presentation. 

The Duke Athletic Department made sure to include all components of the military; Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. Invitations were also given out to active duty, guard and reserve forces as well as many different chapters of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

Close to 2,000 veterans took advantage of the tickets and Duke fans and servicemembers alike said they are already looking forward to next year's military appreciation game. 

"Duke Athletics wants to show our appreciation for everything the military has done and hopefully the event will continue to grow in the future," said Mr. Smith.