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America Supports You: Carolina Panthers Welcome Home War Heroes

By Antonette Maltagliati
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2007 – When the Carolina Panthers football players enter the stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 11 night for their Veterans Day home game, they will be joined by a large cannon blast and six war heroes.

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Former Marine Staff Sgt. Edwin Bono, center, reacts after tossing a football into a Carolina Panthers locker-room bin, as players, fellow veterans and family members cheer him on in Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 6, 2007. Bono’s toss earned him a mid-field spot for the pre-game coin toss at the Panthers vs. Falcons game on Veterans Day. Courtesy photo
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“There will be two men with the captains walking out to do the coin toss, and four veterans will lead the team as flag runners,” said Peter Vacho, a spokesman and manager with the Panthers community relations office.

The veterans are part of a group of nine who visited the team Nov. 6 to spend some time with the professional football players for a stadium tour, luncheon, question-and-answer session and a surprise announcement. The surprise came during a “bin ball” game the players hosted for the veterans. The game is a locker-room pastime the players enjoy when they are not practicing or playing games, Vacho said.

“There are two bins the players take turns throwing a football into, essentially large, plastic laundry bins, 3 feet wide by 5 feet long,” Vacho said. “It was awesome when Sergeant Bono threw the winning football into the bin. Everybody starting cheering, jumping up and down.”

As a winner of the bin ball game, former Marine Staff Sgt. Edwin Bono learned he earned the rights to accompany the team captains for the pre-game coin toss Nov. 11. Former Petty Officer 2nd Class William Cooper will join Bono. Both men survived explosions in Fallujah, Iraq, and are recipients of the Purple Heart Medal.

Flag runners out of the tunnel that night will be former Marine Staff Sgt. Bobby Moon, former Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Moses Gloria, former Marine 1st Lt. Edwin Salau and former Army Spc. Donald Urbany.

Moon, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist, was injured while investigating an improvised-explosive-device blast when a second IED exploded.

Gloria, who was a hospital corpsman, also served in Iraq. Salau lost his leg when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade Nov. 15, 2004, in Iraq, while serving with 1st Infantry Division. Urbany was injured May 10, 2005, by a roadside car bomb in Iraq.

The three other veterans will be part of opening ceremonies at the Nov. 25 home game versus the New Orleans Saints.

Former Air Force Senior Airman Michael Smyre will be a flag runner for the opening run. Smyre was wounded Nov. 9, 2004, by a rocket-propelled grenade in Fallujah, Iraq. Air Force 1st Lt. Chad Bloodworth, currently a pilot with the North Carolina National Guard, was recently in San Diego to help contain fires. He has prevailed over head injuries from the shrapnel of a surface-to-surface missile. Bill Coty, now an officer with the Coast Guard, was commander of an unmanned aerial vehicle company in Iraq.

During their Nov. 6 visit to the team’s home stadium, the veterans met with Carolina Panthers players Brett Basanez, Chris Harris, Jeff King, Terrence Melton, Mike Rucker and Mike Wahle.

The team worked with the “Wounded Warrior Project,” a non-profit troop-support group, to make this event happen for the veterans. They dubbed the event at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., “Operation Welcome Home.” All nine veterans are residents of either North or South Carolina.

The Wounded Warrior Project is aimed at helping men and women of the U.S. armed forces who have been severely injured during the war on terrorism.

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Related Sites:
Wounded Warrior Project

Click photo for screen-resolution imageCarolina Panthers players greet decorated war veterans at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 6, 2007,as the first part of “Operation Welcome Home.” Courtesy photo  
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