A memorable moment before puck ever drops

Posted5/31/2010 12:01 AM

The Blackhawks likely will do it again Monday night in the United Center.

No, not that "it." Not just win another Stanley Cup Finals game.


Before the first puck drops the Hawks likely will introduce another active member of the military and another veteran.

They'll stand next to national anthem singer Jim Cornelison and either salute the flag or hold hand over heart as the crowd goes wild.

The Hawks have honored current and former military personnel at every recent home game I attended. However, today's ritual should be special.

Memorial Day, you know.

The roar accompanying the national anthem should be as loud as at the 1991 NHL All-Star Game in the old, loud, rowdy Chicago Stadium.

That was during the first Gulf War and, man, did that building ever rock that afternoon. This tradition of cheering and clapping during the national anthem earned global attention that day.

Well, Monday night's rendition just might rock the socks off that one, what with the crowd enthused by the Hawks verging on a championship and our troops still doing their duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Mixing the two - manic sports and depressive war - might seem like wearing a striped shirt with checked pants.

But what better place? Rarely are 22,000 people available in one place to honor our troops like at a Hawks or a Bulls game, much less 60,000 at a Bears game or 40,000 at a Cubs or White Sox game.

The expressions on the faces of the two persons standing with Cornelison make it clear that 2 plus 2 does equal 4 here.

The honorees are grateful for being recognized, thankful for the thanks and thrilled to be reminded that they're remembered.

The older of the two might be a veteran of World War II, Korea or Vietnam. The younger probably served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Perhaps the most appropriate aspect of the event is the red carpet rolled out for them so they don't slip and fall on the ice.

Later in the evening a camera finds them again, their images are projected on the big screen high above center ice, and the crowd roars again.

I look at their faces and think, "My goodness, what stories these two could tell if they chose to."


The older person has lived with his war experiences for as long as nearly seven decades. The younger is reminded of his experiences by newspaper or TV news reports that more Americans were killed doing what he did not far from where he did it.

All of them - the ones who died and the ones who survived - served so thousands of fans could attend a hockey game on Memorial Day.

Our troops do what they do so we're free to play and watch sports. Maybe they return home after losing limbs so we can hail a hockey player for returning to a game after losing teeth. They march to war so athletes can ride in championship parades.

The wrinkled faces of veterans who witnessed the worries of the world should be etched into our minds as indelibly as the names of hockey champions are etched into the Stanley Cup.

Now, folks, have a meaningful Memorial Day and feel free to give thanks to those who helped make it a safe one.