The Washington Capitals scored victory the other night over the Tampa Bay Lightning, putting the playoff series in a tie with each team scoring three wins. There was one fan attending, courtesy of a donation to Freedom Alliance from the Capitals, who became a Caps fan around 8 years ago. How is it that an Army veteran from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, became a Caps fan? He was treated to his first hockey game while recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in DC. John was on his second deployment to Iraq as a Forward Observer when an IED exploded under the Stryker vehicle in which he was riding, shattering almost every bone in his legs below his knees, resulting in the amputation of his left leg. When he was well enough to leave the hospital, John, attended as many outings as he could (which is how we met him in April of 2010 at a Freedom Alliance Outdoor Adventure), and the Capitals treated a group of wounded servicemen to attend a hockey game at the Verizon Center in downtown DC. John remembers really enjoying the sport, and that someone gave him an Alex Ovechkin jersey – sealing his fate. Ever since then, he has cheered for the Washington Capitals and was following the playoffs with excitement this year. Knowing his enthusiasm for the team, Freedom Alliance reached out to Tim Bronaugh at the Capitals who scored John tickets for the game…and went one further. During the third period, the Capitals held a “Soldier Salute” segment featuring John and his backstory. The crowd stood and cheered, showing their gratitude to this soldier who sacrificed so much nine years ago. “It’s an honor to recognize such great people from our military at every Caps games,” said Tim, “and it’s one of the most rewarding parts of working here.”
For John, the Soldier Salute segment was surreal. “My friend agreed that the crowd cheered louder then than at any other point in the game!” NHL Hall of Famer Rod Langway, a former Capitals player who twice was named top defenseman and earned the nickname “Secretary of Defense”, appeared next to John during the segment to give him a special camouflaged “LANGWAY” jersey.
The Capitals defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning and as John was exiting the stadium, Caps fans kept stopping him to shake his hand and thank him for serving. “One little boy asked his mom if he could take a picture with me,” John said.
“It’s up there with the top five things I’ve done in my life,” John said.
Feature Image courtesy Amy Moore