World War II veteran Guy Prestia unfolded his brand-new personalized Penguins jersey in the team’s locker room following Wednesday’s morning skate.
“Look!” Prestia exclaimed while holding up his jersey. “They put me on the team!”
Prestia served from 1942-45 in the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division. He was in North Africa with General George Patton as well as the invasions of Sicily and Italy. His unit also liberated the Dachau Concentration Camp.
“I was over there for three years, but that was a long time ago,” Prestia smiled. “It’s really good to be here.”
Prestia and 15 other U.S. military veterans were special guests of the Penguins for the game-day skate on Veteran’s Day.
The group included ten members of the Wounded Warrior Project, two veterans from “Hockey Saves” and individual veterans from the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq Wars.
All of the veterans received a personalized jersey presented to them by one of the American-born players. U.S. Army veteran Casey O’Brien, who served in Iraq, was one of many to put on the sweater right away. It didn’t take long for it to be filled with autographs.
“Everything that the Penguins have done today here is just awesome,” O’Brien said. “I’m just trying to take it all in, the whole experience.”
After taking a group photo with the players, O’Brien also had a brief conversation with defenseman Rob Scuderi – who has veteran ties of his own. Scuderi’s father served in the Marine Corps and both of his grandfathers in the Navy.
“I know sometimes it’s tough to get them to come out because most veterans are very quiet about their service,” Scuderi said. “It’s nice to see some faces and some names of people that have put in some sacrifice and some time for our country.”
The special day is far from over.
Penguins players will wear special camouflage jerseys in the pre-game warmup prior to tonight’s matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, and the sweaters will be autographed and auctioned online from Nov. 16-30. The proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project and the Mario Lemieux Foundation’s Austin’s Military Playroom Project.
In addition, two more special guests – World War II veterans Master Sgt. Asa Wilson Roberts, Sr. and Private First Class Clarence Brockman – will watch tonight’s game with the 16 other veterans in the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin charity suites.
U.S. Army veteran Carmen Vacca, who served in Korea, is honored to be part of the special day.
“It’s a great privilege,” Vacca said. “I think (the Penguins) are a great organization. They do a lot not just for veterans, but for other organizations as well. They’re a class act.”
Prestia couldn’t believe the day was just getting started.
“It’s wonderful,” Prestia said. “I didn’t expect anything like this. It’s awesome.”
Continuing to go above and beyond to honor our veterans is of great importance to Scuderi.
“It’s a self-sacrifice that a lot of people, men and women, put in for our country and it’s important that it be recognized,” Scuderi said. “It’s not something that they expect recognition for constantly, but I think it’s important to take a little time and respect their sacrifice and what they’ve done for our country.”
Before the group headed out of the locker room for lunch, Prestia offered his opinion on the morning skate.
“The team looked really good in practice,” Prestia said. “I used to ice skate too, but not like that!”