Thank You for Your Service

11 November 2020 Opinion Philadelphia Eagles

Being that November is Salute to Service month in the NFL, and being an active duty member of 10 years (and counting) myself, I’d like to take this time to highlight two former Eagles players that put their ambitions of being a member of the National Football League on hold to serve their country in times that both were needed dearly. Former Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik and former Eagles’ practice squad lineman and current Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

“Concrete Charlie” earned his name at a young age. Awe-struck by being put on the spot on a television broadcast, Chuck Bednarik’s mother opted to speak on his youth. She said, “When he was in school, lots of kids wanted to fight him, I told him, if anybody hits you, give it to him.” Given the massive amount of fight in Bednarik, instilled in him at a young age, Bednarik earned himself the blue-collar nickname: “Concrete Charlie.” After getting started with football in high school, Chuck decided to put his college football career on hold to serve in the United States Air Force as the country was in active combat in World War II. While serving with the USAF at the ripe, young age of 18, Chuck was immediately thrust into the turmoil in Europe, being immediately deployed to Germany. The Bethlehem, Pennsylvania native served with the 467th Bomb Group in the Eighth Air Force while serving as an aerial gunner in a B-24 Liberation Bomber. Having flown over 30 combat missions aiding the Allied Powers, Bednarik was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon with five Battle Stars. Speaking on his time in the Air Force, Chuck said, “Well, you learn a lot when you are in that situation. You’re being shot at. I was just a kid. I had to learn how to survive and to work with my team, we did that. We survived. It was brutal. I’m thankful to be here to enjoy my life.” Truthfully, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your service and sacrifice to this nation in a time where a lot of men were unwillingly thrust into these rolls. You’re a true hero to this nation and we will all forever be indebted to you for the sacrifices you made for this country AND the endless two-way plays you made for the Eagles on Sundays. Thank you for your service, sir.

Additionally, there is a former practice squad player, and current offensive tackle, that is a true testament to what it takes to adapt and overcome. Captain Alejandro Villanueva, of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, played his college football at West Point Academy for the Army Black Knights where he played both offensive and defensive line, in addition to a little bit of Wide Receiver in his Senior year. Upon going undrafted, Captain Villanueva signed with the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad before being released and returning to the United States Army to complete training that included Army Infantry School, Army Airborne School and Ranger School. After being assigned to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, Villanueva was deployed to Afghanistan as a Rifle Platoon Leader, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. It was during those twelve months in Afghanistan that Captain Villanueva was awarded the Bronze Star Medal the “V” device for valor for rescuing other wounded soldiers while under enemy fire. In addition to his Bronze Star, Alejandro was also awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with a bronze star device indicating his multiple (three in total) tours served in Iraq. Although his playing career did not start out the way he intended, Captain Villanueva now serves as the stalwart left tackle for the in-state rival Pittsburgh Steelers. For this, and all your contributions to the veteran community, thank you for your tireless service to this great nation and we admire and thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to help this nation enjoy that freedoms that we have, and are still fighting for, today and every day. Although your time with Philadelphia was short lived, we will forever be thankful to have been a blip on your radar.

As we near this Veteran’s Day 2020, take the time to find a veteran in your family, community or surrounding area and check on them. You don’t need to approach them about their war stories or whether they did or did not serve in direct combat, rather just ask them how they are and talk about their day. In addition to the pandemic that we, as a nation, are currently fighting in COVID-19, veteran suicide is at an all time high. On average, 22 veterans are committing suicide per day due to the difficulties that go along with transitioning to civilian life after having standards and discipline for so long in their lives or the trauma’s that they suffered throughout their time as a military member. Check on your veteran friends, check on your veteran family members, go to a local nursing home and see if any veterans need somebody to keep them company for a couple hours. It’s the least we can do for those who bear the burden of fighting our countries wars, whether they agree with it or not. If you are a veteran, active duty, national guard or reserve, I sincerely thank you for your service and you will always have a listening ear from me.