Photo: Jennifer Stalcup Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, left, shakes hands with John Peters of Lowrance fish finders during the 2nd annual Phil Niekro Skins and Fins Pro-am golf event at the Legacy Golf Course at Lake Lanier Islands in Buford on Friday . Local celebrities such as Phil Niekro, Steve Bartkowski, Coach Dan Reeves and Morten Andersen tee up with four wounded warriors to raise funds to benefit Operation One Voice.
BUFORD -- The links looked like a who's who of local retired sports celebrities Friday morning.
Former athletes like Steve Bartkowski, Dan Reeves and Morten Andersen put on their golf shirts and plaid pants and stepped out onto the fairways during the second annual Phil Niekro Skins & Fins Pro-am, a two-day fishing and golf event to raise money for the families of fallen and wounded troops.
As Niekro spoke to a crowd of hundreds at Legacy Golf Course at Lake Lanier, he said the achievements of sports heroes and athletes pale in comparison to the accomplishments of the wounded soldiers among them Friday morning.
"People ask me who my heroes are sometimes. My heroes aren't baseball players. Guys like this are my heroes," Niekro said, gesturing toward a man in the audience sporting a white collared shirt with a Purple Heart emblazoned above the left pocket.
The man, Lt. Jay Redman, is a Navy Seal of 20 years who was wounded in Iraq five years ago during a gunfight. "I was hit at least eight times we know of between my body armor and body," Redman said. "I took a round right in the face. Thirty-seven surgeries later, and now I look fabulous," Redman said, laughing.
He said he feels events like the golf fundraiser "are key, because the sacrifice people make is highlighted. We also highlight all our brothers who made that ultimate sacrifice."
Event Co-Chair Keegan Federal said it's men like Redman who are the reason for gatherings like the Skins & Fins Pro-am, which is part of the Warrior Weekend hosted by Operation One Voice, an organization designed by police officers, firefighters and community leaders to raise funds to help support the immediate needs of children and families of wounded and fallen Special Operations Forces.
Federal said the golf tournament on Friday and fishing tournament Saturday were on track to raise about $150,000 for the cause.
Ret. U.S. Special Operations Command Robert "Bobo" Stanwood said Operation One Voice does fine work.
"Seeing guys take time out of their day to come out for this to give back to the families, I can't even describe how incredible that is. It's good stuff," Stanwood said.
Stanwood spent 23 years on active duty, 21 in special operations. His leg was injured in 2000. He went through 18 different surgeries before having it amputated in December of 2005. "After that, I was back on an assault team in Iraq with the boys, knocking on doors," he said.
Added Stanwood: "It's people like the ones at Operation One Voice that make us feel appreciated."
Maj. Gen. Mark "Droopy" Clark agreed.
"I got involved with Operation One Voice efforts about two years ago and saw what a good job they were doing," Clark said. "Coming to these types of events to show our appreciation for what these men do, I think that's very important."
Added Clark: "In essence, you're bringing together the best this country has to offer, public defenders like the fire department, the sheriff's department, the military, community leaders...they all come together for a common cause, and it makes you feel good to be a part of that. It's a chemistry here that you just can't describe unless you're a part of it."
O'Neill Williams, an angler and host of "O'Neill Outside," a TV fishing show, said it felt special to be involved.
"You get to meet people out here that chose to be dedicated to what they're doing," Williams said. "What these guys faced everyday is more than a businessman faces in his whole life."
Williams said the military is near and dear to him. His father, a pilot, died in the service. His stepfather was a radio operator on a B-29 during World War II.
"Being on television is not important," Williams said. "What I do is child's play. These guys out here this morning were willing to make a true sacrifice, and they did."