WASHINGTON D.C. — Usually at one of the Major League Baseball’s jewel events like the All-Star Game, the ceremonial first pitch is a moment to honor legends of the game or sports heroes from the host city.
For Tuesday’s All-Star Game here in nation’s capital, MLB went a different direction for its first pitch, digging into our nation’s military history and choosing an actual hero.
It was the exclamation point on a stunningly patriotic pregame ceremony that featured an A-list celebrity, more than 350 local choir members forming an American flag and a war hero throwing a baseball to one of baseball’s biggest stars.
James C. McCloughan, a combat medic who risked his life on nine separate occasions in a 48-hour span to rescue wounded soldiers, stood on the mound Tuesday night and fired a strike to Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper, who stood behind home plate.
In a lot of ways, he was a perfect choice for the MLB All-Star Game — McCloughan is both a decorated war hero who was awarded a Medal of Honor in July and a Hall of Fame high-school baseball coach from South Haven High School in Michigan, where he spent 38 years after returning from the Vietnam War.
McCloughan was one of 29 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients that MLB brought together for a touching moment on the field. After both All-Star teams were introduced, the 29 Medal of Honor recipients sat on the field. More than 350 choir members dressed in red, white and blue gowns came together from three corners of the outfield to form a human version of the American flag and eventually sing the national anthem.
The Medal of Honor recipients watched as Hollywood star Bradley Cooper narrated a short video about what it means to win a Medal of Honor.
“You don’t win a medal of honor,” Cooper said. “It is earned by the rarest of heroes.”
That was especially true for McCloughan, 72, a Specialist Five in the Army whose heroics when he was just 23, are what legends are made of. This is just a small piece of it, from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society:
With complete disregard for his life and personal safety, Private First Class McCloughan led two Americans into the safety of a trench while being wounded by shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade. He ignored a direct order to stay back and braved an enemy assault while moving into the “kill zone” on four more occasions to extract wounded comrades. He treated the injured, prepared the evacuation, and though bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds on his head and body, refused evacuation to safety in order to remain at the battle site with his fellow Soldiers who were heavily outnumbered by North Vietnamese Army forces … Private First Class McCloughan, again with complete disregard for his life, went into the crossfire numerous times throughout the battle to extract wounded Soldiers, while also fighting the enemy. His relentless and courageous actions inspired and motivated his comrades to fight for their survival.
After the video, each of the 29 Medal of Honor recipients stood on the field and were introduced to the capacity crowd. They took turns waving, saluting or giving a thumbs up.
Once the national anthem was over, every MLB All-Star went onto the middle of the field to shake their hands.
If you’re going to do the All-Star Game in Washington D.C., that’s the way to do it.
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