Army Sgt. Cory Mracek of Hay Springs, Neb., won't be at the ballgame.
Nor will Marine Cpl. Shane Kielion of Omaha.
Or Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey Chaney of Bellevue.
But they won't be forgotten amid the handshakes, hugs and hot dogs. Members of their families will stand in for them with tickets for which their child, sibling or parent paid the ultimate price.
Omaha's fourth annual tribute to families of the fallen and all military veterans, active duty personnel, National Guardsmen, reserves and their families unfurls May 17 around a Creighton University baseball game at TD Ameritrade Park.
The flag-flying, patriotic-themed Salute Our Military Community event attracted one of college baseball's largest crowds last year, and planners hope fans pack the stands again to say thanks.
Tickets are free for veterans, military personnel and their families. For everyone else, a ticket costs $10 for adults and $8 for youths.
The home team will dress the part. Creighton players will wear military fatigue-style uniforms for the game against Missouri State.
Organizer Jim Meier of Omaha said the military appreciation event is a responsibility he takes seriously, especially when he meets those who lost a loved one in war: the Gold Star families.
“They're all in a club nobody wants to be a part of,” he said.
One of them is Pat Mracek of Alliance, Neb. Mracek and her mother, Charlotte Cummings, will drive more than 400 miles to Omaha for the event. Mracek is the mother of Cory Mracek, who was killed in Iraq by an improvised roadside bomb in 2004. She is president of the Nebraska Gold Star Mothers.
Although it may be difficult for others to comprehend, Mracek said, Omaha's public salute heals more than it wounds.
“One of any Gold Star family's greatest wishes is that their soldier not be forgotten,” she said. “If we forget those who fought and died for us, then we're going to forget what freedom is and what our country stands for.”
Nebraska has lost 81 in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Iowa has lost 93, Meier said.
The ballgame salute is one of three activities planned, organized and staged by the local Veterans in Business Forum.
The evening begins with an invitation-only reception and dinner for families of the fallen at the Holiday Inn near the ballpark. About 130 people are expected. Following dinner, the attendees will walk two blocks to pregame ceremonies at the ballpark. Boy Scouts will line one side of Cuming Street and American Legion Riders the other.
Meier encouraged people heading to the game to arrive early, line Cuming Street and not be shy about shaking hands with the families as they leave the hotel about 6:15 p.m.
“They're walking for their son,” he said. “They're representing the child who can't be there. Give them a handshake and a pat on the back.”
Mracek said Gold Star families appreciate the events.
“It's heartfelt and heartwarming,” she said. “You feel that people care and understand. You feel your soldier was special. To have Cory remembered nearly 10 years later is very special.”
Each year at the events, a few more Gold Star families receive a customized Honor and Remember flag. The 3-by-5-foot flags are embroidered with the name, rank, date of birth and date of death of the fallen.
Five families will receive flags in Omaha this year. Catching up with demand for the flags is difficult, because they cost $350 apiece and fundraising for the banners is slow, Meier said.
There are a variety of events planned before, during and after the ballgame — including postgame fireworks — to salute those with military service. Organizers hope to add a few more thousand to the more than 15,000 who attended last year.
Meier said he hopes the events cause people to reflect on why young men and women in their communities volunteer for military service — especially during the past decade, knowing they could be deployed to combat zones in Afghanistan or Iraq.
“I don't know if enough people think about that enough today,” he said.
Meier said the community salute is an easy way for people to understand their role in a nation that has men and women in arms.
“Just by having their butt in a seat at the stadium, their voices and cheers can be heard,” he said. “It's so critical to connect the dots.”
An Air Force veteran from the Vietnam War era, Meier said he hates war.
“But not the warrior. It's critical to separate that.”
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HOW TO GET FREE TICKETS
Complimentary tickets to the Salute Our Military Community baseball game May 17 are available for military veterans, active-duty military personnel and military families. To obtain free tickets, you must have a hard copy of a Family Pass, good for six tickets. Pickup locations for passes:
» BelAir Fashions, 717 N. 114th St., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday
» Prudential Financial Services, 15759 West Dodge Road, Suite 302, business hours
» Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, 1301 Harney St., 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
» Omaha Convention & Visitors Center, 1001 Harney St., 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
» Holstein Harley-Davidson, 4940 S. 72nd St., business hours
» Nebraska Business Development Center, 67th and Pine Streets
» Veterans Administration, 4101 Woolworth Ave., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
» Chastain Otis, 9394 West Dodge Road, business hours
» Axcess CPA, 12925 West Dodge Road, Suite 108
» Western Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, 20801 Elkhorn Drive
» Malibu Gallery, 301 N. 78th St.
» Orizon CPA, 16924 Frances St.
» U-Save Pharmacy, 940 N. 204th Ave.
» First Command, 1716 Charleston Drive, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
» Morning, Noon & Night, 7474 Towne Center Parkway, Shadow Lake
» Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce, 7775 Olson Drive
» State Farm, 2211 Capehart Road, business hours
» Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, 302 Bellevue Square, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
» Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, 149 West Broadway, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
IF YOU GO
What: Salute Our Military Community baseball game, Creighton vs. Missouri State
Where: TD Ameritrade Park
When: Pregame ceremonies 6:50 p.m. May 17. Game, 7:05 p.m.
Tickets: Passes may be redeemed for tickets at TD Ameritrade Park or Creighton University’s Ryan Athletic Center, 19th and Webster Streets. Other tickets: $10 for adults, $8 for youths, available at Ticketmaster, Ryan Athletic Center or TD Ameritrade Park
Information: Contact Dick Lerner of the Veterans in Business Forum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HELPING WITH DINNER
Organizers need about $4,000 in tax-deductible cash donations for this year’s Families of the Fallen Gathering and Dinner at the Holiday Inn, 1420 Cuming St. Union Pizzeria & Sports Bar owner Kyron O’Brien provides the dinner at below cost. Individuals or organizations contributing $100 or more will be mentioned at the dinner and recognized in the program.
Mail: Midlands Community Foundation handles the receipt of mailed contributions made payable to “Salute Our Military Community.”
Mail to Midlands Community Foundation, 945 N. Adams St., Suite 7, Papillion, NE 68046-3111.
Online: Go to http://midlandscommunity.org/. Click on the “Donor Giving” tab, then “Donate Now.” Select “Salute Our Military Community” and go to bottom of the page to make your donation. Payment requires a giver to have a PayPal account.