TE John Gilmore and the rest of the Buccaneers passed on their personal thanks to the wounded veterans from James A. Haley Veterans Hospital on Saturday night
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers preach a warrior mentality when on the field, focusing on intensity, will, and ultimate sacrifice for the team. That ideal was present in a much more humbling form when the team held practice at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night. As the players ran through their drills on the field, watching from the sidelines were some of the bravest warriors this country knows.
Twenty-eight war veterans from the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital were in the house as the Buccaneers' special guests on Saturday night, receiving well-earned VIP treatment a getting a taste of training camp from as close as they could get.
The veterans enjoyed the night immensely.
"This is incredibly special; the Bucs' are incredibly generous to do this for us," said Lee Harvey, who served with the Air Force Civil Engineers during the height of Vietnam. Harvey would have continued his interview, but an enthusiastic Ronde Barber stole him away to shake his hand and spend a few moments with the serviceman.
"The fact that the players are breaking lines – which I think they'll have to pay for later – to come and shake our veterans' hands is unbelievable," observed Mary Donovan, a polytrauma therapist at the hospital.
The hospital serves veterans and active military from all branches of service and from every era of American military action. Alongside recently-returned veterans from Iraq were members of the Greatest Generation from World War II and the Korean War.
"There is nothing that brightens their day more than to be acknowledged for the great service they have done for this country," Donovan said while watching one of her patients who served in Korea interacting with Barrett Rudd.
The veterans were surprised when General Manager Mark Dominik arrived and greeted every one of them personally. The GM's exit allowed room for the Buccaneer cheerleaders to swing through and captivate the attention of American heroes, and when practice finally broke under the Raymond James lights, literally the entire roster made a point to come over, shake hands, and sign autographs for warriors and their families.
Tight end John Gilmore, who had visited the hospital back in May, was thrilled to see some familiar faces out on the sidelines for the stadium practice.
"I'm really glad they made the trip; it's great to see them all again and it really puts what we do in perspective," said Gilmore. "Some of the things we go through are so miniscule compared to what these guys do and what they put on the line for us."
Gilmore noted that he was shocked and humbled at the amount of respect some of the veterans had for him and teammates. "They put us on this pedestal, but here we are looking at them in total awe thinking we could never do what these heroes have done."
"I really think it meant a great deal to them," noted Donovan with a smile.
Given the looks of respect and determination on the players faces as they exited the sidelines, it is safe to say it meant a great deal to the Buccaneers as well.