It was a truly humbling evening in Cleveland today as Black Team mingled with past war heroes at the Cleveland chapter of the 82nd Airborne Association. About 40 veterans from World War II all the way to current conflicts in the Middle East gathered on a small patch of lawn on the grounds of the Coast Guard Auxiliary station downtown to have a barbecue and share war stories. The chapter president knew the Golden Knights would be in town for the air show and invited them to come down to the event.
Of the nine members of Black Team, six are 82nd Airborne Division veterans, and proudly wear the 82nd combat patch on their right shoulder. This was, of course, a huge hit amongst the old Soldiers, who regaled the Team with stories and memories of their times in the service. Many of them had served in Korea and Vietnam, and one even had a combat jump onto the battlefields of France in World War II.
Though most of the stories were lighthearted, some were touching. “I saw a lot of things over there when I was a boy in the war,” said one of the vets, who grew up in Vienna during WWII. “Even though they were terrible memories, I wouldn’t trade them for anything, because it meant I would get to come to this great country,” he said. He went on to join the US Army and served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. As a tribute to veterans of all wars, he has collected more than 150 military uniforms and countless pieces of military memorabilia in a makeshift museum at his home in Cleveland.
The Team ate dinner with the veterans and Black Team Leader SFC Will Fleming (who is a veteran of the 82nd himself) stood up to say a few words. “It’s always an honor to come here and visit with you folks,” he said. “We will put on the best show we can for you tomorrow, and we will do the 82nd proud.”