By Sharilyn Wells/ParaglideJune 3, 2011
CONCORD, N.C. " In honor of Memorial Day, the Charlotte Motor Speedway opened it’s doors to members of the armed forces to enjoy the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race with Family members. Past and present servicemembers from around the country were thanked, for their service by receiving free tickets to the May 29 race and were honored during the pre-race show.
Servicemembers also got the chance to see the pits of their favorite drivers and watch the pit crews at work.
The pre-race show included a military demonstration, special awards, military band performances, an appearance by Larry the Cable Guy and a short speech by Maj. Gen. Rodney Anderson, XVIII Airborne Corps commanding general. The U.S. Army Drill Team performed along with the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus, followed by a simulated military invasion in which Soldiers demonstrated military tactics as they “eliminated” a suspicious target that infiltrated the speedway.
After the demonstration, around 600 Soldiers marched onto the track as the crowd applauded their service. The Soldiers remained on the track to watch a performance by country music signer, Darryl Worley, and the signing of “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood. Medal of Honor recipients, Hector Cafferata, Gary Litterell, and Walter Marm were recognized for their service, and deployed servicemembers introduced the NASCAR drivers on a giant video screen.
Additionally, the U.S. All Army Color Guard presented the colors and the Charlotte Fire Department Pipes and Drums performed a bagpipe performance of “Amazing Grace.” Soldiers from Fort Bragg also gave a 21-gun salute to fallen comrades as a bugler played “Taps.”
Country music star, Darius Rucker, sang the National Anthem as more than 100 Fort Bragg Family members unfurled an 11,250 square-foot American flag on the frontstretch grass.
A surprise awaited Army spouse, Katrina Zaleski, also in the front stretch. Zaleski, who thought her husband, Staff Sgt. Matthew Kilmartin, was in Iraq serving his third deployment, was greeted by Kilmartin in front of the race crowd and television viewers around the country.
Zaleski thought she was being awarded the Golden Eagle Award, supposedly given in
appreciation to spouses of active-duty military. But the fake award was actually created to set up the reunion between the two. After the reunion, the couple got to enjoy the race in the comfort of the Coca-Cola suite. Kilmartin will return to Iraq after a 15-day rest and relaxation leave with his wife.
The pre-race show’s big finale ended with a fly-over of stunning B-2 Stealth Bomber flown by pilots from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base out of Missouri.
For 82nd Airborne Division Soldiers, Pvt. Nick Vosburgh and Pvt. 1st Class Taylor Johnson, the events were a great way to get away for a while and see how much their service really is appreciated.
“You know, at Fort Bragg, we see this sort of (military appreciation) every day. It’s awesome to see this type of respect somewhere else,” explained Vosburgh.
“We were part of the 21-gun salute,” said Johnson. “It was nerve wracking because we felt the pressure of probably 14 million people watching us, but I am really proud to be a part of this. Not having deployed before we got to honor the guys before us, what they did, and who we will follow.”