NATICK, Mass. (Oct. 24, 2013) -- On a late June day at Fenway Park in Boston, Master Sgt. Miguel Chacon was looking on with great pleasure as Red Sox players signed autographs for his three children and dozens of others when he felt something hit him on the side.
Chacon, in uniform, looked down to see a pair of batting gloves, which he assumed that some fan had tossed down to be signed. A moment later, an usher tapped Chacon on the shoulder and told him that it was Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, known for his unwavering support of the U.S. military, who had thrown them over.
Later, he was able to thank Gomes personally for the unsolicited gesture, but Chacon wanted to do more.
So when Lee Cummings, who works at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine at Natick Soldier Systems Center, offered him tickets to the Sept. 15 Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway, Chacon, the USARIEM senior enlisted advisor, brought along the Advanced Combat Helmet that he had worn in Iraq and a bag of "recruiting goodies."
On a pre-game tour of Fenway, Chacon showed the helmet to a club official and told her that he had brought it for Gomes. She escorted Chacon and fellow USARIEM Soldier Spc. Travis Crook below the stands and to a door outside the Red Sox clubhouse.
"About three minutes later, here comes Jonny Gomes through the door!" Chacon said. "I reached into the bag and I said, 'This is the helmet that I had in combat.'"
Chacon told Gomes that he wanted him to have it.
"Are you serious? This is cool. This rocks," Chacon recalled Gomes saying.
"He was just taken by that helmet," Chacon said. "He loved it. He lit up."
As they talked, Gomes pulled down his right sock to reveal a tattoo that stretches from his knee to his ankle. The tattoo includes an American flag, the Statue of Liberty, and a target with the date Osama bin Laden was killed.
"I've met some players," said Chacon, "but I've never met a player as patriotic as Jonny. Never."
The helmet -- with Chacon's rank, roster number, blood type, an American flag and a Special Forces sticker on the outside -- has become as much a celebratory icon as the beards worn by the Red Sox, now facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Chacon didn't part with it lightly.
"Things that I've taken to combat and back, they have a lot of value to me," said Chacon, who has set aside the gear for his children to one day give to theirs. "This is the stuff that dad went to war with. I wanted to give a piece of the battlefield back to Jonny."
Chacon's helmet couldn't have found a better home than Gomes' locker.
"It's an honor to see him wear that," said Chacon, adding that Gomes, in turn, "honors the military. That's bigger than anything. I'm glad it's getting them through the battle that they're battling through right now to win the World Series."