As some may know, I received recognition on 19 June as the “Salute Our Heroes” honoree at Royals Stadium. It was quite the honor and weighed on my heart that I truly wanted to represent every other Veteran deserving of this, but most importantly, our fallen Veterans. The honor left me speechless. That is until I met the real hero of the night, a young boy named JP.
JP came to me shortly after I was recognized and said, “I have this baseball that I got during batting practice today and wanted you to have it to thank you for your service.”
I told him I would not take it without his autograph. As he smiled, I nearly cried. Why, you ask? A boy honoring a Veteran he had never met is a heartfelt message for the young and old, Veteran or otherwise.
To give the baseball away was quite the gesture but knowing this ball was a part of this young boy’s collection of memorabilia connected to the World Champion Kansas City Royals. It was so much more than a gesture. You see, what JP did was “give” me a “ball” but more importantly, he “gave” all Veterans that night a piece of his heart.
What JP did not know Saturday night was that he gave this ball and a piece of his heart to the spokesperson for the Veterans Affairs Eastern Kansas Health Care System representing nearly 1,800 employees and over 37,000 Veterans.
For decades, Veterans everywhere have wondered if what they do really makes a difference. Many came home from Vietnam to a country that may have lacked an appreciation. Others came home from subsequent wars unsure of how others would view them, treat them, and perceive them. Many come back from war with a myriad of physical, mental, emotional, financial, and family struggles.
As a Veteran, I find it safe to say these struggles do not disappear during a Saturday night baseball game but for a small moment in time, with an impact that will last a lifetime; these struggles were overshadowed by the compassion and kindness of one young boy.
JP handed me a “baseball” Saturday night and in doing so, handed me, and Veterans everywhere, not just a ball but a “symbol” of hope for future Veterans and acknowledgement for all those before, that our service is and has been, truly appreciated.
I asked JP and his cousin Lauren Saturday night if they understood exactly what this act of kindness meant. Well, JP, as you read this with your family and thousands of other proud Americans and Veterans, I believe you now have a better idea of exactly what your act of kindness meant. There was no hero more important than you were JP, on Saturday night.
About the author: Joseph Burks is a Veteran of 20 years who served in the United States Army. Joe spent nine years enlisted, culminating as the 1st Sgt. for the 205th Area Support Battalion. He then took a direct commission in 2002 and retired as a major in late 2013. He served in both Afghanistan and Iraq earning the Bronze Star in both campaigns and the combat medic badge for rendering lifesaving care while under fire. Burks now works for VA in Kansas.