CLARKSVILLE – The Austin Peay State University Governors Football team helped keep the legacy alive of fallen service members Saturday during APSU’s 2018 Military Appreciation Game – APSU vs. Murray State University – at Fortera Stadium.
They also honored those who are still listed as prisoners of war or missing in action.
More than 70 Gold Star Families were in attendance as each APSU football player played in remembrance of their loved ones.
Well before the game, each player received a biography about the fallen service member he would be honoring on game day.
Elijah Shepard, APSU linebacker, played for Staff Sgt. James Patton.
Shepard learned Patton was an Army Ranger who died on April 18, 2010, at the age of 23, while serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“He was only three years older than [I am now],” Shepard said.
Between the first and second quarter of the game, it was announced that through donations members of the Sigma Chi Fraternity had purchased a seat as a memorial to honor POWs and MIAs.
For Cindy Stonebraker, the chair has a special meaning.
Two weeks ago Stonebraker marked 50 years since her father was identified as missing in action. On Oct. 28, 1968, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kenneth Stonebraker, left Udorn Airfield, Thailand, to conduct a night reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. He never returned.
“I never knew anybody else like me,” said Stonebraker, who is a member of the board of directors for National League of POW/MIA Families. “And I felt my dad had been forgotten and that nobody cared.”
To Stonebraker the chair means her father, and others like him, are not forgotten. The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reports that 1,592 Americans remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia from the Vietnam War, of those 488 are nonrecoverable.
“To be able to be here tonight, and see this chair, and hear [about] all the work that went into putting this chair here, touches my heart,” Stonebraker said. “This chair not only reminds me that my dad hasn’t been forgotten, but it serves as an education tool to educate the community that our freedoms were not free.”
At the conclusion of the game – APSU beat Murray State 48-23 – Gold Star Families and friends were invited on to the field to celebrate and meet the players who played in recognition of their loved ones. Each player presented a camouflage Governors football jersey to the Gold Star Family with their loved one’s last name on the back.
Shepard presented Patton’s jersey to his brother, Cliff, and mother, Sheila.
“I really appreciate that because you all go and fight for our country, it gives me the opportunity to play football,” Shepard said. “It meant the world to me to give them this jersey.”
Even with the big win against Murray State, Will Healy, APSU football head coach, said having Gold Star Families in attendance and presenting jerseys to them was significant.
“I talked to a lot of Gold Star Families and I know it was very special for them,” Healy said. “But I promise it was a lot more special for us. We get to be around heroes on a regular basis, and there is no bigger hero than somebody who laid down their life for all of us and I’m just honored to have [their Families] in our presence.”