View Full Version : Enquirer story puts things in perspective

05-29-2006, 12:46 PM
I caught this story from the Enquirer and it makes it a little less hard to take a 3-3 homestand badly.

Iraq vet enjoys simple pleasure of a Reds game
The day before Memorial Day, an Army veteran of the Iraq war sat in Section 118 at Great American Ball Park, watching the Reds play the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is vague on the details of his service, commanding convoys of military trucks from Kuwait to all points in Iraq. He can tell you all you want to know about Reds baseball, though. Baseball is simple and fun and safe. Baseball matters deeply, without mattering at all. It's a miracle that way.

Former Army 1st Lt. Jeff Brown, 31, describes it this way: "It's so easy here. You come to a Reds game, have a few beers, yell a little. I've been to a ton of games already. Ten or 12. I'm a freak."

Sometimes, he will leave his government job in the federal building downtown just to watch batting practice, before catching the 7:15 p.m. bus to his home in Northern Kentucky.

The best things in life are things we too often assume: A safe place to live, food in the kitchen, a warm day, people to love us. A ballgame. War brings clarity to all that, for those who experience it. Jeff Brown served his country for a year. He came back to Cincinnati 16 months ago. The simple pleasure of a ballgame will never elude him again.

"I don't care about a bunch of millionaires playing ball," he explained Sunday. "It's not about them. It's the game, man. It's your comfort, I guess. It's something that's always been in your life."

Maybe you remember Brown. Beginning in early 2004, he e-mailed me from his base in Kuwait, commenting on what I wrote, asking what I thought of the Reds. When he came home on leave in July of that year, he threw out the first pitch at a Reds game.

It was July 4. Then he went back to the war.

For 364 days a year, I ask myself "How would I do?" in a sports context. If I were batting in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game with the bases loaded, how would I do? I'm on the 18th green at the Masters on an early Sunday evening, staring at a 3-foot putt to win the green jacket. How would I do?

How would I handle attempting a free throw with no time left on the clock, game tied? What would that say about me? How would it define who I was, or who I might become? How would I do?

The 365th day is today. Today is when I ask the question in the context of war. If I'm getting shot at, or driving a truck down a highway pocked with buried bombs, how would I do?

My friend Dick Kerin is 82 years old. The day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was in a drugstore in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, sipping a Coke through a paper straw. The soda jerk said it just came over the radio, about Pearl Harbor. Dick Kerin didn't know where Pearl Harbor was. He was 17 years old.

Three years later he was prone, in the black volcanic sand on Iwo Jima, taking fire from the Japanese troops on Mt. Suribachi. He had enlisted in December 1942, after one semester at Southwest Missouri State, where he had played football.

He had seen combat. But not like this.

"We were on one of those amphibious (landing craft)," Kerin recalled Sunday. "I looked around. Guys were smoking cigarettes and looking off into space. Some guys were holding rosaries."

Dick Kerin said he never wondered how he might do. He didn't have time. "There was so much else going on," he explained. "How are we going to take this position? How are we going to survive it? I had a couple 17-year-olds in my squad. You get to thinking about how they're going to do. I will say this: I always thought I'd survive."

On the 20th day of the month-long invasion of Iwo Jima, Kerin took a bullet in his shoulder that exited through his back. He has a newspaper photo of himself, the bloody hole in his shoulder in plain view. Occasionally, he will see black-and-white footage of himself during the battle of Iwo Jima, displayed on the History Channel.

He lived. He never wondered why. He did what he had to do, so he could come home.

Jeff Brown was at the Reds game Sunday. Javier Valentin hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. Cincinnati rallied to beat Arizona. It was a great game. They all are.

I asked him what Memorial Day meant to him. "I don't have one specific thing to tell you," he said. "You're so fortunate to be sitting here. Memorial Day makes you appreciative for the guys that aren't here. You have a couple close calls over there, you see people that aren't here ... Those guys gave up every single tomorrow for you to be sitting here."

Jeff Brown and Dick Kerin will go to a parade today. They will listen to a band or eat a hot dog, and the joy of it will fill them utterly. How did they do?

Brown thinks about the question. "You do what you've got to do," he finally says. "In the whole of it, I guess you're just proud you went when you were asked. My job was to get my guys home, and I did that. That's a great feeling."

We cringe a little today, Memorial Day, when words such as "courage" and "hero" are applied so generously to the deeds of athletes. It's just a ballgame. But what a pleasure it is that we are here to watch. Let's honor those who aren't here by making ourselves a little more worthwhile.

Today will be an especially beautiful day. The weather won't be bad, either.

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com

05-29-2006, 12:51 PM
At yesterday's game up on the "Jumbotron" they had a guy in Army fatiques (sp?) saluting with a guy (his brother?) holding a sign saying something like "deployed to Iraq". Everyone one cheered. :thumbup:

05-29-2006, 12:56 PM
It is a tough time in our history for those in the armed forces and knowing that a simple Reds game can give them a moment of peace makes me very happy. Every day should be Memorial Day in our minds. Thank your servicemen if you see them I know it makes their day!

05-29-2006, 01:27 PM
I read this earlier on the cincinnati.com site... very nice story.

Thank you, every single member of the USA Armed Forces, past and present... and especially to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I love you all!