Alex Antanovich Jr. has experienced as much as an 88-year-old man can.
He fought in World War II as a B-24 belly gunner when he was just in his early 20s, getting shot down over Germany on his fifth mission and evading capture for 10 months thanks to the Dutch underground.
The Washington County native returned to Western Pennsylvania following the war’s end, getting married and having children soon after.
Now Antanovich can check attending a Penguins game off his bucket list.
Antanovich, who turns 89 later this month, has been a longtime Penguins fan but has never been able to make it to a game. So on Veterans Day, the Penguins honored the Washington County native by inviting him to the team’s Friday night tilt against Dallas.
“It’s been a great experience for me. I didn’t expect anything like this,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I’m surprised how good I could see the hockey players from where I was sitting. I imagined we’d be sitting way up, but where I’m at it was wonderful. It’s an experience that I normally wouldn’t have enjoyed other than being invited here.”
Antanovich rode the Zamboni during the first intermission then visited the ROOT SPORTS broadcast booth in the second.
He was also honored on the video board during the first period, where the crowd gave him a thunderous standing ovation.
“It gives you a lift up,” Antanovich said of the recognition.
Antanovich was one of a number of veterans honored on Friday as part of the “Support our Heroes” initiative, and his story is an absolutely incredible one.
He couldn’t say enough about the way everyone comes together on Veterans Day to honor those who have made so many sacrifices for their country.
“It’s very encouraging for me to see that because most of the World War II veterans – the ones I’m familiar with – we went through an awful lot,” he said. “There was no complaining. Four days after I came home, I was back on my job.
“The recognition, I appreciate it and enjoy it. It’s hard for me to explain. It’s nice. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, just like my experience in the war was once-in-a-lifetime. I will say that so far, I’ve enjoyed the whole thing.”