Ben Gedeon, Kevin McDermott, Ryan Quigley, Stephen Weatherly and legends Bob Lurtsema, Dave Osborn and Rickey Young visited the Minneapolis VA Health Care System to thank veterans for their service on Tuesday.
MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings players, alumni and cheerleaders on Tuesday expressed their sincere gratitude for sacrifices made by American heroes during the team's seventh annual visit to the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.
Ben Gedeon, Stephen Weatherly, Kevin McDermott and Ryan Quigley were joined by Vikings Legends Dave Osborn, Rickey Young and Bob Lurtsema as well as Vikings Cheerleaders Danielle and Evan in sharing their appreciation for veterans who are receiving treatment at the hospital.
Players said that they valued the opportunity to express their appreciation because they have veterans in their families and have close relationships with current service members.
One of Gedeon's brothers attended the United States Naval Academy and is currently serving in the Navy.
"Without their sacrifices, we wouldn't be able to play the great game of football and be able to do all of the cool things that we do or go about in everyday life," Gedeon said. "To give back to them is really important."
Weatherly said his great uncle (grandfather's brother) served in the Army and received treatment in a VA hospital toward the end of his life.
"When the opportunity presented itself, I jumped right on it, just to come and spend time with these people because they've sacrificed so much for us," Weatherly said. "The least we could do is come and brighten their day."
When a close childhood friend of Weatherly's graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, Weatherly took a break in his pre-combine training to attend the friend's graduation in Colorado. They have been able to stay connected.
"He's currently stationed in Montana, so I was able to go visit him and tell him how proud I am of him," Weatherly said. "We're the same age, grew up together, and I just said, 'You're on your way to doing great things. I'm proud of you.' "
Quigley and McDermott each had grandparents who served in the military, and they also work daily with Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, a former Naval officer and helicopter pilot.
"It's an honor to come here. These people have sacrificed to serve our country," Quigley said. "Having family members who have served and hearing their stories, these people put their lives on hold for our lives so we can be free to do what we want here in our country."
McDermott said Priefer's military background carries over to his coaching.
"[Coach Priefer] carries a lot of the structure that he was given in the military at Annapolis and when he was serving as a helicopter pilot in the Navy over to teaching myself and Kai [Forbath] and Ryan," McDermott said.
"I think it's a great process he puts us through," McDermott added. "We are prepared every single week, and his attention to detail really shows."
McDermott's grandfather served in Korea and eventually retired as a brigadier general in the National Guard.
"It's a great honor. It's a fantastic facility here. We're lucky that there are so many veterans in the Minneapolis area," McDermott said. "It's the least we can do for people who really have given so much to our country and put their lives on the line. It's great to come out here and meet everybody."
One of the veterans the players met was Minneapolis native Henry Smith, who is rehabbing from spinal surgery at the hospital's Spinal Cord Injury Center.
Smith served in the Army and worked in a burn unit at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, during the Vietnam War.
"My job was bad, but theirs was worse," Smith said of soldiers he helped treat in 1971.
Smith and other veterans received hats from the Vikings that the players and cheerleaders gladly signed.
"I've been staying at Shalom Nursing Home," Smith said. "I was falling down a lot. They diagnosed me and cleared me for spinal surgery. They said I'd be able to walk once I get it done, so I've been working out, and things have been great here."
Lurtsema, Osborn and Young also visited the Minnesota Veterans Home — Minneapolis on Tuesday to play bingo with veterans. Tuesday's visit marked the 18th consecutive year for Vikings representatives to visit the Veterans Home.
Don Nix, former Veterans of Foreign Wars State Commander who served in the Army from 1968-71, said the veterans are "very honored to have Vikings players visit patients."
"They look forward to this time of year because they know that the Vikings are going to come out," Nix said. "This is a great day for our veterans."