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Wings appreciate the military

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Justin Abdelkader, whose great-uncle fought in WWII, and the Red Wings will wear camouflage jerseys during warm-ups as part of Military Appreciation Night before Friday's game against the San Jose Sharks. The uniforms will be auctioned off and the proceeds will go towards Help For Our Disabled Troops. (Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- It's one of the most famous events in world history, the day that Western allies invaded northern France, landing on the beach in Normandy.

D-Day happened on June 6, 1944, and Justin Abdelkader's great-uncle, Garrett Bass, was among the troops that landed there that day.

Abdelkader said he once did a school project on Bass for a ninth-grade class.

"I got to interview him.," Abdelkader said. "I want to say he shook hands with General (George) Patton at one point when they moved forward to Normandy on the beach. Obviously it was a touchy subject so he didn't like talking about all the details but just pretty special. It was neat I got to bring his uniform and everything in."

Most people have seen the iconic photos taken that day when the troops arrived on the beach.

"It's truly amazing, one of the biggest events in the last 100 years, for the whole world," Abdelkader said. "For him to be a part of it, for him to go and fight for the freedom of our country and allies, it's pretty special."

Brad Richards' grandfather also fought in World War II.

"I was probably 10 to 15 years old when I heard the stories and at that age, you don't really realize the impact of what went on in World War II or any of the wars," Richards said. "It would be great to be able to sit down with him now at this age and pick his brain on what he saw and what he did. He saw a lot of things, he was over there for a long time. His hearing was never the same with a lot of the explosions and stuff going on."

Danny DeKeyser's father, Mick, was in a different war.

"I don't exactly know the squadron he was in but he was over in Vietnam, I'm not exactly sure how long, a year or so, I think," DeKeyser said.

Abdelkader, Richards and DeKeyser remember the stories they have heard, especially at this time of year when Veterans Day is celebrated and the Red Wings hold their annual Military Appreciation Night.

The Wings will wear special camouflage jerseys during pre-game warm-ups, which can be bid on at www.Auctions.NHL.com. The winning bidder will also get the pair of camouflage socks the player wore during warm-ups. Money raised will go to Help For Our Disabled Troops, a military charity that assists veterans who have returned with severe injuries since Sept. 11, 2001.

"I think it's extremely important for us to remember and respect what people are doing out there today, the sacrifices that have been made in the past and the sacrifices that are going to have to continue to be made in the future for us to live the way that we live," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I think it's easy for us to take it for granted. It doesn't hit close enough to home, thankfully, so I think days like these are reminders to make sure that we show our great appreciation for the military and everybody that keeps us safe."

Blue Star Mothers of America will be collecting care package items and monetary donations. The care packages are for homeless veterans at the VA Domiciliary in Detroit and the VA in Iron Mountain, Mich.

All the players appreciate those in the military who make sacrifices so the rest of us don't have to.

"I appreciate all veterans, especially my dad, for fighting for our country and giving us the freedom that we have today," DeKeyser said.

Richards said the military members and their families are the ones who make the real sacrifices.

"I think it's a shame that anybody even compares anything we do to the fight they have and the sacrifices they have," Richards said. "We do nothing compared to them. You see how crazy the world is now, especially living in this country the last 15 years. The 9-11 stuff and all the different terrorist things that are going on around the world, you realize, it's sad to say you want to keep it over there, you don't want it anywhere, but at least they're fighting so it's not here. They're doing their best so it doesn't come back to our country. It's amazing the sacrifices they go through and some people don't come back. It's a different world from what we're living in, that's for sure."

While nobody can fully repay the military members for what they have done and continue to do, it's nice to have a night to acknowledge them.

"Me being an American and everything we stand for and the troops fight for overseas, it's very special," Abdelkader said. "There's people each and every day risking their lives so we can live in a free country.

"They're a reason why we can play this game and live lives like we do."

FORMER WING TO CLIMB MT. KILIMANJARO: Former Wing Mike Commodore is taking part in the 2016 Climb for Valor.

The climb is to help the Duskin and Stephens Foundation send two Wounded Warriors on the trip.

The climb begins April 26 and they are scheduled to summit Kilimanjaro on May 2.

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