Softball tournament raises money to send vets to Washington DC

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COLUMBIA - Washington D.C. is a place with many memorials honoring those who have fought for our nation, and not everyone who has served gets the opportunity to visit our capitol. The Home Runs for Heroes softball tournament helped give some of these veterans that chance.

Home Runs for Heroes held this tournament September 27 and 28, raising money for Central Missouri Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that raises money to send war veterans to Washington D.C. for a day. Honor Flight makes the most of this day as a group will leave Columbia around 2:00 a.m. and return at 11:00 p.m.

Mary Paulsell is the president of the organization. She said the day might be a long one, but the veterans are usually too excited to notice.

"We visit the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War Memorials," Paulsell said. "We go to Arlington for the changing of the guard. We go to the Air Force Memorial and the Marine Core Memorial. We go to the Iwo Jima Memorial."

"It's a fast agenda, but it seems that as the day goes on, their energy gets better and better. They seem to go back in time when they were young men and women. It's the adrenaline and the excitement and the pure joy at being remembered and thanked for their service."

Some coworkers at Veterans United came up with the idea of a softball tournament that raised money for veterans, and they spent a few years trying to make it a reality. By 2012, they held the first Home Runs for Heroes. Ed Schnedler is one of those coworkers, and he said there is a reason they wanted to get softball players involved with Honor Flight.

"In the softball community, there isn't a lot of awareness about veterans," Schnedler said. "There are a lot of leagues people play in across the country, but we wanted to offer a different kind of tournament. We wanted to bring these people together, raise awareness for military-related causes and raise money for those who served for our freedom."

This year, a record 64 teams competed and Home Runs for Heroes raised $9,000, exceeding its goal.

"It's the least we can do, honestly," Schnedler said. "You can tell it means a lot to them getting the chance to see their memorial and get to possibly see someone's name on a memorial who they probably lost. We really want to be a part of that."

John Rhein is one of the few Americans who was drafted twice, serving in both World War II and the Korean War. He traveled to Washington D.C. last year with Honor Flight, and now he greets veterans when they arrive back in Columbia after their trip. He said his trip with Honor Flight was one of the best days of his life.

"It was such a sight seeing all these memorials," Rhein said. "You really see the impact of what we've been fighting for. It's a pleasant thing to know that we are honored that way. Honor Flight is really something special."

Many of the players who competed understand and appreciate Home Runs for Heroes' cause. Robert Bailey recently retired after 24 years in the army as a military police officer. His team, the Mid-Missouri Hit Squad, consists of all military members, and they travel across Missouri to play in tournaments like this one.

"Nothing feels better when you're playing a team and they're like, 'hey, thank you for your service.'" Robert said. "Sometimes you meet an older veteran in a game and you say, 'hey, I want my team to beat you, but I have to be honest, I want you guys to win at the same time.

"When you have something like this, I mean, why not be here and be a part of this? There's nothing better than to see those vets and know that they got us where we are today."

Central Missouri Honor Flight's next trip will be Oct. 8, which will be the organization's 30th flight.

For more information on these organizations, visit www.veteransunited.comsoftballforvets.com and centralmissourihonorflight.com.

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