(Front row L-R) Cory Benoit, Zach Tandy, David Lacroix, Kenny Alderman and Kyle Hatin. (Back row L-R) Jeff Mongeon, Adisun Wheelock, Cody Sharrow, Dylan Leggett and Jon Covey. Photo by Robert Wheel

Legion players help sick veterans smile

Early last month, 10 Cannons American Legion Baseball players from Winooski, Vt., loaded into a van driven by their head coach, Jeff Mongeon. The team drove for more than an hour to reach their final destination - White River (Vt.) Junction VA Medical Center.

Since 2003, the Cannons Legion Baseball team has participated in the American Legion Auxiliary Post 91 gift train event at White River VA Medical Center. The event allows patients unable to leave their room during the holidays to shop at no expense from a mobile cart filled with a variety of donated gifts. For the Cannons' players, participating in the event is their way of giving back to the veterans who make it possible for them to play Legion ball.

"My guys that went on this trip just get it," Mongeon said. "You play baseball because the people in the hospital kept our country safe enough to play."

The players wheeled the "gift train" in and out of multiple patient rooms, providing 47 veterans with ongoing conversation and free holiday gifts for their loved ones and even themselves.

"I know we brought smiles to faces and cheered people up for those who were having a bad day," Cannons player Cody Sharrow said. "Many of the veterans were very humble and didn't want to pick anything out for themselves. So I picked a few gifts out and gave them as a gift from me."

The assortment of gifts offered included items from socks, gloves, T-shirts and blankets, to board games, toys and stuffed animals. Once the patients selected their gifts, the players wrapped and placed name tags on them.

"It's a very heartwarming event," said Bob Wheel, Cannons assistant manager. "The players coming back for their second or third year are always the first to sign up."

After spending a few hours with the veterans, the Cannons Legion Baseball team grabbed lunch at the local Ninety Nine restaurant, where their tab was picked up by the general manager in recognition of their community service project.

"The part I loved about this group was how much fun they had talking to all the sick veterans," Mongeon said. "It's easy to be intimidated when you look at vets missing limbs or just looking really sick. Our guys figured out really fast, though, that they still love to have visitors and that the conversations quickly become more important than the presents. They shared a lot of laughs, and that was great to see."