Veterans invitational softball tourney a time for families, camaraderie
By Lou Fancher
At the third annual Veterans Day Invitational Softball Tournament in Concord, U.S. veterans and active duty members stretched, tossed softballs, ran the bases and teased each other about playing ball without team practice.
But they snapped to attention when Concord High School's "Ladies First" choir launched into the national anthem and during a rifle salute by seven junior ROTC members from Mt. Diablo High School that set off car alarms in a nearby parking lot.
The Veterans Day program sponsored by VFW Lt. Jerry Novakovich Post 1525 and its Auxiliary, and Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 264 served as a dignified opening for the three-hour softball tournament co-sponsored by the Concord Vet Center and the Contra Costa County Veteran Service Office.
"There aren't a lot of events like this where veterans and active service members can just get together, enjoy family time, play ball," Delmer said.
Marine Corps Reserve Staff Sgt. Armando Morales said his team was invited for the first time this year and jumped at the opportunity.
"We already had a team on base and this offers unit cohesion," he said.
Twelve teams comprised of 50 percent or more members of the U.S. armed forces took to the field in the name of the holiday aimed at honoring all veterans.
"We have a spectacular turnout," said Maurice Delmer, Concord Vet Center outreach coordinator and readjustment counselor. Delmer serves as organizer of the event and has seen participation grow to include 140 players.
A large poster displaying complex pool/bracket/single elimination graphics that led to six gold winners and six silver winners by the competition's end were impressive, but didn't distract from the overall purpose.
A 15-year-member of the military stationed in Alameda, Morales says the military works at lot on morale.
"A lot of guys and women came back (from Iraq and Afghanistan) with PTSD. I had it, but I got help right away," he said.
The San Francisco native works in communications as a radio operator and although he loves to travel, he said, "I couldn't really say I enjoyed my tours, except for being with the group. I just love knowing that I did my job."
Oakland native Melissa Margain was a dental forensics specialist during her eight years in the U.S. Army. Part of a long line of male family members who have served in the military, she proved "it's not just a man's thing" to herself and to her family.
Currently working as a field representative for Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Piepho, Margain said she might still be in the army if it were not for a mortar attack. During her second Iraq tour in 2009, she suffered a traumatic brain injury when a bomb exploded. Two years of relearning to speak has left her eager to tell her story. A bachelor's degree in cognitive science from American Military University provides a focus.
"I used to be angry, but now I'm not. Now, I want to be a therapist and treat others who are going through trauma," Margain says.
When she tells civilians she's been in the army, most often there's support.
"It's a selfless service. I say, respect it, even if you don't agree with it."
Respect was easy to find on the ball field and summed up in the pre-tournament comments by Concord Mayor Tim Grayson. Veterans' service is what gives us liberty, a commodity we often take for granted, he told the crowd of roughly 100 people.
"For all our comforts, we can thank a veteran."