PHOTO GALLERY: Steelers play bingo with veterans
Bingo is a regular activity at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System's Heinz campus, a way for those who have served their county to gather together, share some stories and just have fun.
It's something the veterans always enjoy, but when they gathered on Tuesday afternoon for bingo, there was a surprise in store for them. Just before the games were to start, several Steelers walked in to join the fun.
"It was a surprise. I don't think anyone knew they were coming," said veteran Kenneth McDowell, who was awarded a Purple Heart for his service with the U.S. Army's 36th Infantry Division during WWII. "It means they care for the veterans."
Tackle Kelvin Beachum, linebacker Chris Carter and center Fernando Velasco all participated as a part of the NFL's Salute to Service, honoring military veterans in observance of Veterans Day, which is Monday, Nov. 11.
"Everybody was pretty excited when they came in," said Carl Coleman, a United States Marine Corps veteran who also volunteers at the VA. "They were pretty happy to see the Steelers. It's good that they came in. They appreciated that very much. This really lifted up the spirits of the veterans. We need that, something to lift them up and keep them going. The veterans appreciate this."
For Velasco, whose brother Melvin Brookins is in the U.S. Air Force, spending time with the veterans had special meaning.
"It's awesome. It's not about us, it's about them and the great job they do for our country and the freedom," said Velasco. "I have a younger brother in the Air Force so I know on a personal level what it means to serve his country. It's awesome to come here and meet them and hear their stories."
The group took part in playing "Steelers Bingo," with the bingo card reflective of the Steelers Super Bowl IX team. As each number was called out, the veterans would quickly yell out the player it represented, from B12 Terry Bradshaw, to G58 Jack Lambert, to O75 Joe Greene.
"I think this is just great," said 89-year old Joseph Benvin, who served in the U.S. Army 29th Infantry Division, 175th Infantry Regiment* *during WWII and was the winner of the first bingo game. "We watch the games all of the time and to see them in the flesh is great. We can't ask for anything more than that. They thanked us for the service we provided to everybody."
As the players sat with the veterans, they listened to their stories, asked about their service, and were humbled to be around such brave individuals.
"These people have sacrificed their time, lives, bodies for us to wake up every day and be free and enjoy the things we do," said Carter. "These people put in the ground work years ago for us to be able to enjoy life today. To sit around and talk to them, they are good people and can teach us a lot. You get great stories from them and insight."
Some of the veterans offered advice to the players, even giving a few football tips.
"I felt like my grandpa was talking to me one time," said Beachum. "It's good to spend time with people who have served you, keeping this country safe. They went through some stuff and are still here having fun. We should always find a way to make time for them."
The veterans received Steelers prizes for winning the games, and all were given a camouflage Terrible Towel that the players signed. Many of the veterans talked about how special it was to meet their football heroes, but the players said it was the other way around.
"We just play a little game called football," said Velasco. "They go out there and put their lives on the line all of the time. They are the real heroes in my eyes. It's nothing about football. It's about what they do on daily basis."