GJ veteran loves the way JUCO celebrates Memorial Day

Memorial Day fireworks at the 2009 JUCO World Series.

James Park, a Vietnam veteran, enjoys one of Monday’s games, when all veterans were admitted free to any game.

To Grand Junction resident James Park, Memorial Day is more than fireworks and barbecues.

Park, a 57-year-old Vietnam veteran who served six months in Vietnam before having his right leg injured by shrapnel on July 4, 1970.

Park turned 19 four days later.

Many of the players in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series range from age 18-20, and have the freedom to play baseball because of the efforts of Park.

Park, a loyal follower of JUCO, said for him, Memorial Day is about remembering the soldiers who never returned.

“For me Memorial Day is more about celebrating other veterans who haven’t been able to come back,” Park said. “That is why I wear a POW patch.”

Park is attending what he said is his seventh JUCO tournament, and buys the full 19-game tournament pass to perch in the first row of the first-base bleachers.

Park is one of many veterans in the stands and feels a certain appreciation for the Memorial Day celebration at Suplizio Field.

“I have always enjoyed the way JUCO has done their Memorial Day celebration,” Park said.

“When the fireworks go off, I jump at first, but I get used to it.”

Park is the typical JUCO fan, not really looking for more than good play on the field.

“My favorite part is the good plays, and the good teams,” Park said. “Right now, I’m not rooting for any one team, I am rooting for baseball, but (when) Wednesday or Thursday rolls around, I pick a team and we get into it.”

Park is involved with the American Legion and said he’s working with an organization called Missing in America, which is a project to make sure veterans are buried in proper cemeteries. Earlier this month, Park helped escort the remains of three fallen soldiers to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Park rode with the remains by motorcycle from Fruita to Eagle.

“I feel any time a veteran needs help, it’s the job of another vet to help him,” Park said. “We are like magnets, we always seem to find each other.”

Underneath Park’s leather vest, he wore a shirt promoting Western Slope Honor Flight, an organization raising funds to send World War II veterans to the National Memorial in Washington, D.C.

WSHF has a booth set up at Suplizio Field all week to help raise money. Buz Washington, a representative with the group, said WSHF is scheduled to make the trip Aug. 25-26, taking 100 WWII vets.

“It’s been nothing but great support from the community,” Washington said. “(Tournament Chairman) Jamie Hamilton and (Mayor) Bruce Hill were instrumental is allowing us to be here.”

Hamilton had a busy day attempting to keep Suplizio Field as playable as possible after an hour rain delay in the afternoon. He said the break allowed people to interact underneath the stands.

“You don’t have the crowds that we are used to, but underneath the stands there were some veterans and people walking up to them thanking them for their years of service and service to the country,” Hamilton said. “So now we are having a little more camaraderie between people.”


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