The Buffalo Bisons will host a game in May celebrating veterans by donating a portion of ticket sales to a project to make capital improvements at more than a dozen local halls and posts. In partnership with the Erie County Clerk's Office and a private sponsor, one thousand veterans will get to watch the Bisons' may 18 home game for free.
May 18 is Armed Forces Day across the United States, but at Sahlen Field it will be marked as Thank A Vet Day at the ballpark. The 1,000 ticket vouchers being distributed to local veterans are being paid for by Duff's Famous Wings of Orchard Park.
Phil Kinecki, who owns that particular Duff's location, stood at the podium inside the downtown stadium on what would have been his father's 83rd birthday.
"My dad was a proud vet, a Marine," he explained. "(I've got) a brother in the Air Force, a brother in the Army. My brother was just home from Alaska. He still works at Fort Richardson up there. When I told him what I was doing, even he was thankful. He was proud. And I know my dad would have been proud."
Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns explained that the vouchers will be available at his Franklin Street office and will also be distributed at Clerk on the Go outreach events.
In the meantime, the Bisons are offering a special ticket sale on the Thank A Vet Event page on their website. Half of the proceeds from the $14 tickets will go into the Veterans Post Restoration of Erie County. Jerry Kowalski, vice president of that organization, says the Veterans Post Restoration project and local businessman Russell Salvatore recently completed construction of new handicap-accessible facilities at one local veteran post. Similar work is done at several more local halls, he explained.
"In the future, we have 19 posts that we need to have repairs done to make them accessible to wheelchairs," Kowalski said. "Our veterans are getting older. We're losing more and more World War II men, and Korean veterans. Now it's mostly Vietnam veterans."
Kowalski is one such Vietnam veteran. He acknowledged attending a Bisons game as a turning point in his life, turning away from the bitterness of being part of the generation of veterans who returned home to a cool and, for some, a hostile reception. While attending his first Bisons Independence Night celebration a few years back, as the emcee asked Army veterans in attendance to stand and be recognized, he did not.
A following year, though, he was coaxed into standing up.
"It was the first time in over 25 years that someone said to me 'thank you for your service. I continued to cry during the music and the fireworks. I couldn't stop," Kowalski said. "That's what it means to us. Us veterans are a different group of people. We love this country more than you understand we do."