On Tuesday, Nov. 10, several Vikings players paid a visit to the Minneapolis Veteran's Hospital as a way to say thanks to those there who have served our country.
MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings players and cheerleaders shared words of sincere gratitude and joined mascot Viktor to bring smiles to American heroes on Tuesday during the team's fifth annual visit to the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, a day before Veterans Day.
John Sullivan is on the mend from a back injury but maintained his attendance streak. He's participated in every one since Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations Brad Madson worked with Don Nix, former state commander with Veterans of Foreign Wars, to launch the tradition.
Jeff Locke, who was born at a U.S. Army hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, while his father was serving in the Air Force, has participated all three years he's been in Minnesota. Locke's paternal grandfather and grandmother also served in the military, so he is quite familiar with the sacrifices military families make.
"I've kind of seen the life that some military service men and women have to live and the kind of sacrifices they have to put in day-in and day-out," Locke said. "You have that little bit of connection. I didn't serve, but I think I can kind of appreciate it more than some that didn't have family that went through it. It can break up families. Service to your country is amazing, but it does take a toll on the family life."
Locke recently discussed how his father's experiences have impacted him, along with the football and non-football topics in a Timeout with Vikings.com.
He, Sullivan, Blair Walsh, Kevin McDermott, Scott Crichton and Dominique Williams genuinely connected with veterans who are undergoing prolonged hospitalizations.
"It's great. You don't really realize the impact you can have until you start interacting," Locke said. "You kind of see people's faces light up. You have no idea what they've been through. You can't even really imagine what they might be going through, so just to be able to put a smile on their face, maybe it will last a day, a week, a couple of months, but it means a lot to us."
Walsh said players understand the NFL's annual Salute to Service initiative, but "until you really experience it first-hand and meet people who have dedicated their lives to serving our country, it takes it to a whole new level."
"The veterans are so important to our country," Walsh said. "They've dedicated and sacrificed their lives for our freedoms. For us to take a few hours of our day to come here and visit with some of those who are going through some tough times, it's amazing. It really puts everything in perspective, how great of a country this is that you have people like this that are willing to serve and risk their lives for our freedom."
Ralph Heussner, Public Affairs Officer with the Minneapolis VA, said the visit made a positive impact on veterans, including those receiving treatment at the Spinal Cord Injury Center, which is one of 24 in the VA system nationally.
"These patients have musculoskeletal problems," Heussner said. "They could have a broken back, a neurological condition such as ALS or MS. There are many conditions resulting from the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam that caused long-term neurological problems, so they're in the hospital long-term for rehab and being fitted for technical devices they can use when they go home."
Nix, who presented Madson with a plaque to celebrate the five years of visits by the Vikings, served in the Army from 1968-71, including the first two years in Vietnam. He said he appreciates increased support for veterans and those who are currently serving with courage.
"The support now for veterans is quite a bit different. We just came back and that was it," Nix said. "Now we get people that welcome them back and are very supportive. The programs they provide now are a lot better.
"I'm very grateful. It's nice to see young women and men go into the service and to protect our country," Nix said.
Alumni Salute Veterans
Viktor and cheerleaders later joined Vikings alumni on a visit to the Minnesota Veterans Home — Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Walker Lee Ashley, Hall of Famer Carl Eller, Bob Lurtsema, Dave Osborn, Oscar Reed and Rickey Young joined veterans for rounds of bingo and shared smiles and stories with the American heroes.