Military Appreciation Day at US Open provides pride

September 1, 2014 04:47 PM

By Nicholas J. Walz,

Monday, Sept. 1, at the US Open found fans feeling patriotic, as the tournament celebrated its third annual Military Appreciation Day on Labor Day in the United States. Throughout both the day and evening sessions, members of the U.S. Armed Forced and their families were honored for their service to country.

"I never knew that this was part of the Open, but now that I do, you can’t help but feel honored,” said U.S. Army Private First Class Joel Aaronson, a ticketholder from nearby Port Jervis, N.Y., in attendance with his fiancée, Crystal, and 4-year-old daughter, Catie. “There are a lot of respectful fans here. Seeing a huge crowd supportive like that, it’s great. [Today is] one of those ‘proud to be an American’ days.”

Between the Serena Williams-Kaia Kanepi and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga-Andy Murray matches inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, the family of 1943 U.S. national champion Joseph Hunt was recognized and joined Vice Admiral Walter E. Carter Jr., the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, to conduct a ceremonial coin toss for the Tsonga-Murray contest. Hunt served in the U.S. Navy from 1939 to his death in 1945, killed during the waning months of World War II in a plane crash.

"He had a high degree of character. He served his country, and always put country first,” said Hunt’s great nephew, Joe, an attorney and former tennis pro currently living in Seattle. “He gave his life for this country.”

In addition, military support organizations Semper Fi Fund and Freedom Alliance sponsored two groups of wounded military service members and veterans, who were in attendance and enjoyed the early session in a guest suite in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The group watched on as two of their brethren, Sgt. Chris Bustamante, 44, and Sgt. Todd Reed, 53, performed their duties as ball persons below on the court.

Reed served in the Army for 11 years, from 1980 to 1991, before losing a portion of his right leg in the line of duty after stepping on a landmine. Reed retired from the military the next year and then enjoyed a 21-year career as a member of the Mesa Police Department in Mesa, Ariz. before retiring from that career last Christmas. Now a rookie once again, he is enjoying yet another pressure-filled role.

"I am just happy and blessed to be here," said Reed.

"The US Open is an international happening but has always been steeped in rich, American traditions, including Military Appreciation Day,” said Daniel Faber, Executive Director of the USTA Foundation, who co-sponsored the celebration with the USTA at large. “Every American tennis fan either has served or knows someone who has served this country, and it’s important that we honor them every day. We believe that tennis can unite families of servicemen and women, and no place or time is that more evident than in New York City for the Open.”

Part of the USTA Foundation’s mission as the national charitable organization of the USTA – the governing body of the sport in the U.S. – is to support tennis programming to help active military service members, veterans and their families learn tennis as a way to rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves into communities after traumatic experiences. They recently developed a “Warrior Tennis Curriculum” to guide any willing person, with or without experience playing the game, how to use tennis to improve mental and physical health.

Sgt. Sharon Rimal is a Queens resident and a full-time member of the U.S. Army National Guard. Rimal and Commissioner Terrance C. Holliday of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs were on hand to take part in another coin flip, this time before the start of the evening session and the match between two-time US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka and Aleksandra Krunic.

“I really appreciate these events that do show gratitude toward the military,” said Rimal. “Tennis can bring back normalcy to people’s lives. Regaining the ability to get back on the court and to start healing, it’s more powerful than anything.”

“Labor Day is a salute to Americans who made this country what it is,” said Holliday, 68, a one-time U.S. Air Force Colonel. “Traditionally, people think of unions and blue-collar jobs, but I think it’s a celebration of everyone the rolled up their sleeves and put in work. Medical, military, education – it’s indivisible.”



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