Tourney raises money to help injured vets

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

DULUTH -- Members and friends of branches of the military celebrated Memorial Day weekend in fitting fashion Saturday -- with the nation's pastime.

Well, sort of.

Teams representing the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps came together at Duluth's Bunten Road Park for the third annual All-Service Softball Tournament, pounding underhand tosses with aluminum bats to benefit the Sentinels of Freedom Gwinnett.

"It's a wonderful tournament," said David Ernst of Lilburn. "It's strictly to honor veterans, the ones that passed before us, the ones that are here and the ones in active service. But it's a lot of fun, too."

Ernst, playing on the Air Force team, was one of the handful of people playing Saturday that weren't veterans. A friend of one of his teammates from a senior softball league, he came out to support the worthy cause.

"I'm one of the few that doesn't (have a military background)," he said. "But I definitely honor their service."

Sentinels of Freedom is a national nonprofit organization to benefit injured soldiers across all branches of service. Its Gwinnett section has organized this softball tournament for three years running, among other events.

Al Brown, a 12-year vet of the Marine Corps, sits on the board of directors for the group.

"When we started Sentinels of Freedom, we were looking at different ways of raising money," he said. "Since we're dealing with veterans and whatnot, we figured one way was to do a softball tournament around Memorial Day."

After a short memorial service, it was time to play ball, flags from each branch flying high and red, white and blue bases on the field.

"The Army's won the last two years, so hopefully that will change this year," Brown said during Saturday's first game. "The Marine Corps and the Navy are probably the two biggest rivals because (the Marines) are part of the Navy."

With "old-timer" veterans, children, grandchildren and well-wishers like Ernst all playing, 100 percent of their entry fees went to Sentinels of Freedom, which helps severely injured vets find jobs, housing and transportation.

"Everybody's having a good time, that's what I like," Ernst said. "They take the veterans seriously, but the softball's a lot of fun."