This fall was Freedom Alliance’s fourth annual journey to the U.S. Tennis Open in New York City for Military Appreciation Day. We always bring some friends along with us, and like every year since the first, this year’s group was treated to fun and food and favor, while the tennis folk offered their due regard for these active-duty and veteran military service members.
From Seattle, Washington, we welcomed Army Staff Sergeant Michael and Air Force Staff Sergeant Jacob. Mike, a two-time recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals, served two combat deployments in Iraq and was wounded in an ambush while on tour in Afghanistan. Jacob is a special operator who has fought with the Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Brian joined us from California. The Sergeant was injured in an explosion in Afghanistan, which resulted in the amputation of his right hand and leg, as well as his left thumb and index finger.
Army Sergeant Bryan is a Brooklyn native, who lost both legs and an arm during his service in Afghanistan. Bryan and his mother, Maryjane, a tennis enthusiast, met us at the Open, this being their second time to attend with Freedom Alliance.
To inaugurate our trip to New York, Freedom Alliance supporter Frank Casano invited us to dinner at his South Street Seaport pub called Nelson Blue. The fare here is New Zealand-inspired, and we tasted popular dishes such as Cast Iron Shrimp, Lollipop Lamb Chops, and Chili Salt Squid. Frank, who always treats Freedom Alliance guests visiting New York to dinner at one of his restaurants, even had a patriotic cake made in honor of our troops.
The next day, we indulged in a “food tour” with Our Town New York. Guide Jerry Petrozelli combined a bit of walking (as much as our group could manage with various disabilities) with sight-seeing from a luxury automobile. We explored bakeries, pizza parlors, cafes, and diners, while sampling cannoli and drinking espresso. During a sidetrack, Zoltar, the fortunetelling machine from the Tom Hanks movie Big, predicted our future … which included lots of good luck, of course.
And there was indeed good fortune when the U.S. Tennis Association summoned us to a private tour of the Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the U.S. Open would transpire. The attendants guided us up to the rooftop of the stadium, where media reporters from around the world were stationed. From here the vets enjoyed a spectacular prospect of the Manhattan skyline and the famous globe sculpture, fountains, and gardens surrounding the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center.
Then the Freedom Alliance gang was conducted to a catered suite, sponsored by the Semper Fi Fund. Tennis champion Serena Williams had autographed tennis balls delivered to the suite, and we were met by a court of VIPs, including Vice Admiral Carter, superintendent of the Naval Academy; former WNBA all-star Lisa Leslie; and Shane West, actor from ABC’s Once and Again and the film A Walk to Remember.
During a Serena Williams match, the U.S. Tennis Association introduced and featured each of our service members on the Jumbotron, and the stadium resounded in a prolonged standing ovation.
It was an extraordinary couple of days, and we were pleased to see our military veterans and their family members honored in this way.