Dave Nichols: Honoring true heroes that protect our freedom

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I, like millions of fellow Americans, was on my daily commute to work, only I work two blocks from the White House. I first heard the news on the elevator up to my floor: “A plane hit the World Trade Center in New York.” There were no details at that point and no reason to think that America was under attack. Once I reached my desk and got on the Internet, I realized there was a much bigger story and, like all my fellow Americans, I was then glued to the coverage.

We all heard about - and watched - planes crashing into both of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in rural Pennsylvania. When reports surfaced that planes still in the air might be part of the coordinated attack, and that the White House and U.S. Capitol were among potential targets, that presented an immediate personal dilemma: Where do I go? In my office, I was two blocks from the White House and at the time I lived across the street from the Library of Congress, one block from the U.S. Capitol. My then-girlfriend, now wife, worked at that time in the tallest building in Chicago, another potential target. Where would we be safe? It’s not a question I’d ever had to answer before in my life.

I ended up walking back to my house, as the pandemonium made any other form of transportation in the city unreliable. When I got to our corner at First and C Streets, S.E., there was an Army tank with soldiers in the middle of the intersection. It sat there for the next six months until the permanent barricades took its place.

My dad’s father was a Navy doctor; my mom’s father a motorcycle cop. My father was a Marine. I have one brother who is a cop, and my other brother works for the Transportation Security Administration at BWI. They all served so I wouldn’t have to. I’d have made a lousy soldier, and I was lucky enough that the particular time in my life that I was eligible I wasn’t necessarily needed and that service was optional.

I realize that I am not unique having family members that have served our country. And living in Washington, D.C., I realize that everyone in the area has stories related to that day almost 10 years ago that probably mirror mine. I didn’t lose a loved one in the Sept. 11 attacks, but know several that did. The events of that day changed the way that America does business and the way Americans live, and last night’s news of the death of the man responsible for those attacks triggered a public catharsis, a remarkable impromptu display of relief, pride and patriotism that reminds us that despite our philosophical differences, we are one nation.

What does this have to do with sports? Well, in an unbelievable and serendipitous coincidence, the Washington Nationals happen to be sponsoring Military Appreciation Night at Nationals Park during the 7:05 p.m. game with the San Francisco Giants tonight. The event has been planned for weeks, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Many teams acknowledge the military during games these days, and I have to admit, I go to so many games that these moments of appreciation often blend in with the commercials and other entertainment between innings or breaks in the action. They shouldn’t.

Tonight, the Nationals will provide free tickets to veterans. Military personnel can receive up to four complimentary tickets by just showing up at the box office with a valid ID. It’s a small gesture by the Nats and Major League Baseball, but it’s still a nice gesture. Military personnel will also be involved in pregame and in-game ceremonies, as well. It should be an especially poignant and moving night at the ballpark, providing another outlet for Americans to express their gratitude to those that serve to protect our way of life, our security, our national interests. To protect our freedom.

Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as MASNsports.com begins a season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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