MINNEAPOLIS — West Point graduate Andre Carter II and Navy brat Pat Jones II were two of five Vikings players who visited the Minneapolis VA Medical Center Tuesday to genuinely thank American heroes for their service.
Carter and Jones each received applause when sharing their connections to military service.
The duo was joined by Dalton Risner, Harrison Phillips and Greg Joseph in returning to the VA for a Veterans Day-themed visit by Vikings players.
All five players appreciated the opportunity to connect with veterans who are undergoing in-patient or out-patient treatments. The traditional visit had been disrupted, beginning in 2020, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It has been a long break, and we're very excited to get back to the place where the Minnesota Vikings can come into the hospital here and visit the veterans," said Melanie Nelson, Public Affairs Officer with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. "They watch the games in their rooms. Everyone watched [Sunday's Vikings win over the Falcons]. The fact that these players take a moment to come say hello and visit with them means a lot to us."
The group visited a roomful of veterans in the Community Living Center, which includes a Behavioral Rehab Unit.
Among those veterans was Lester Shaunce, who served in the Air Force from September 1965 to September 1969, including a 2-year deployment to Japan.
"When I heard the Vikings were coming, I couldn't believe it," Shaunce said. "Minnesota has the best VA in the nation."
Shaunce is making progress after undergoing treatment for a rare blood infection in his right shoulder. He remembered years gone by of connecting with Vikings players, including the Purple People Eaters, at training camps in Mankato.
The Vikings then visited 15 veterans in the Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder Center where Nurse Manager Christa Reckner has worked for 15 years. Reckner has seen veterans' conditions improve through physical therapy and other treatments.
View photos of OLBs Pat Jones II, Andre Carter II, G Dalton Risner, K Greg Joseph, and DL Harrison Phillips visiting the Minneapolis VA Medical Center in honor of Veteran's Day.
The veterans include Stephen Runge, who joined the Army in 1969 and served in Vietnam for 14 consecutive months. Runge said he changed into civilian clothes in Chicago when he returned from his tour because returning troops were being accosted instead of appreciated.
More than 50 years later, he valued the respect and gratitude the players expressed.
Risner's brother Austin was an Army Ranger whose 10-year service included three deployments, so he knows and appreciates the opportunities he's received as an NFL player through service and sacrifice of veterans, active duty service members and reservists.
"Everyone tells us good job, and we get a lot of nice meals and get taken care of and the five-star treatment, but that's because of what you guys have allowed us to do," Risner told the group. "Thank you for allowing me to live my dream. Thank you for being strong and brave people in this world. You guys are the heroes."