Bellingham had the honor of hosting the final game of the United States Military All-Stars Red, White and Blue Tour. The game began with a flag ceremony honoring the late hero Mal Walton and World War II survivor Vernon Tweit.
Five white-haired veterans marched on to the field to present the flags during the “Passing the Flag” and “Walk of Honor” ceremonies. Bellingham’s American Senior Legion Post 7 team and 13 members of the All-Stars stood at attention on both sides of the field as Tweit and Walton, represented by his wife Irene Walton, were escorted out to the mound. A salute to the flag was slowly raised as it passed between four All-Stars members to the words of Old Glory.
“With honor, pride and dignity they met every challenge and went the extra mile.”
Mal Walton joined the Navy in 1951 following high school, he was then stationed in Guam and then on Whidbey Island. He played professional baseball before coming to coach at Bellingham High School. He was honored by his peers by being inducted into the Washington State American Legion Hall of Fame in 2012. Tweit was an Army tank commander in World War II and his tank was hit by enemy fire. He was awarded the Purple Heart in 1945.
With the presentation of the flag to Irene, the teams lined up and stood with their caps held over their hearts while the National Anthem played. Post 7 team members lowered their heads and the All-Stars stood at attention to honor their fellow service men and women.
Post 7 won the game 4-2 but as Tank Stone, manager of the All-Stars said, being out here on the field is a duty to to these men. Baseball is simply the venue for honor and winning or losing is not what matters.
“We honor all those who have worn a uniform in defense of our country,” he said.
This final stop for the All-Stars was played to the best turnout of any other venue in Washington, Stone said. The Northwest tour was publicity for American Legion and what they stand for, as a group that provides benefits and support to members of the military and their families.
“I can’t wait to come back next year,” he said. “This has been one of the most positive tours I have been a part of. Raising awareness for honor for the American Legion.”
The team is made up of active duty members, veterans and all branches of the military. Instead of names and player numbers, All-Stars team members wear meaningful representations of their country, No.1 Bodacious Ball said.
Ball wears “Sammi” on the back of his jersey in memory of his sister who passed away in a car accident in 2011.
“For me it’s about family, that is what is important to me and what I want to represent,” he said.
Ball was born in Washington and grew up an orphan. Coming back has been different. Everyone he knew growing up has moved on, he said. After withdrawing from Central Washington University, he joined the army for four years and was deployed from 2009 to 2010. He came back to earn a degree from Colorado State University-Pueblo where he played baseball.
“The military really helped me to have more opportunity to succeed than if I hadn’t have joined,” he said.
He has been on the All-Stars team for a month now and now that the tour is over will be going back to Colorado. He plans to return to play with the All-Stars when spring training begins in March, he said.
“We play for one another, “ Ball said. “Together, for each other.”
The display of honor that Stone saw at this game was incredible, he said. For example, a 50/50 raffle was held at the bottom of the 8th inning to support Wounded Warriors Foundation and the half, 284 dollars, won by a man in the stands, went to the same man who came up to Stone earlier in the game and gave him a 100 dollar donation.
The money collected through ticket sales and merchandise sales goes toward Wounded Warriors Foundation.
After the game, the All-Stars stayed around to sign autographs and take pictures. One young boy was handed a bat that had been sitting in the dugout.
“The military is so awesome,” the young boy said as he walked away with a smile on his face, swinging his new bat in the air.