Roadtrip Dad - Veterans Day
Dan Witmer | November 12, 2012
The cold-and-snowy-weather article can wait a week. Let me take a minute to thank veterans far and wide for their service to our country, and if you haven’t done the same, it’s not too late. I always figured I’d last about two days in the military, but thank goodness there are those who not only can make it, but can thrive and do their job with pride and precision.

The only Golden Corral restaurant I knew of was in Fulton, and that closed years ago, but according to TV and print media ads, they’re serving all veterans and current military free meals for Veteran’s Day, a classy move that should be emulated by other restaurants. I also read that actor Gary Sinise often pays for servicemen’s meals in restaurants if he sees the opportunity; he says it’s his way of saying thanks. Another classy move – wouldn’t it be great if that gesture of gratitude caught on?

Oswego State hasn’t had an ROTC program in many, many years, so I had very little contact with servicemen in my years coaching Laker lacrosse. My stories can’t begin to touch that of the Naval Academy and its Looney brothers or the US Military Academy. I’m not trying to compete with their history of patriotism and so many who have served this country, and if I knew more details of the stories about their heroes and those lost serving their country, I’d tell them.

But in my years of coaching at Oswego, I know of just one Laker alum who served active duty. Let me tell you about him, and about a very poignant scene I witnessed just this past summer…

Vince Lang transferred from Syracuse University to Oswego State in the mid-80s (exact dates were always difficult with Vinny; it seemed like he played lacrosse for us for about six or seven years). The Baldwinsville native wanted to play soccer at Oswego, and I think he was on Ken Peterson’s soccer squad his first semester on campus. That spring, he decided to try to play lacrosse as well.

Vince not only played midfield for us; he played in every game situation imaginable – offense, defense, face-offs, man-up, and man-down. He also proved to be one of those guys that just hung around the box and paid close attention to how many guys we had on the field, whether or not we were about to go offside, and he was very good at fixing the situation. These days, every college staff has a “box coach,” someone designated to oversee and direct all substitutions; in the 80’s I had Vince Lang. At one point during his career we had just one goalie on the team, so Vince also became our back-up goalie. Talk about versatility.

Every month or so, Vince would miss a practice and go to Mattydale to train as a tank operator with the US Marine Corps. I’m not sure he even missed any games; it was just an occasional absence that I never gave any thought to. He gave up soccer and played (at least) four years of lacrosse for us at Oswego.

Then Vince left and went to Purdue University, where he finished his undergraduate and graduate degrees. I lost track of him a bit, though he’d return each October to show how much he continued to improve after his NCAA days were over. Then, when Operation Desert Storm started in the summer of 1990, Vince was called to duty as a tank mechanic.

Thankfully, it was a short stay in the Middle East, and Vince was home safely less than a year later. I don’t remember many of his stories, but I do remember that I invited him to talk to my classes at Hannibal about his experiences. He was proud and at the same time humble, and I was proud to have one of our former players serve his country in that manner.

Vince’s college coaching career included years at Purdue (with their club team), Mercyhurst, Wittenberg, and Dayton. Currently, he is the head men’s lacrosse coach at Trine University, in Angola, Indiana, which is now a member of the MIAA (Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association).

Vince played at Purdue, he played for the German National team, and he has played for various club teams as well. Vince still plays every chance he gets. He’s a regular at Lake Placid and makes appearances at random tournaments as his schedule allows. He ran circles around me in 2011 at Lake Placid, and even though I was frustrated by not being able to stop him, I took some satisfaction in knowing that maybe, just maybe, it was something he learned playing for me that helped him burn me time after time.

Vince was back at Lake Placid this past summer, playing in several different age brackets as usual. One day, while wearing a US Marines hat, he stopped in at the main tent to check his schedule, when he met Gary DiNola, my fellow competition director for the Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse Tournament. Gary is a retired English teacher and school administrator, and the father of three sons who all played lacrosse for Richie Meade at Navy. Seeing the hat, Gary asked Vince if he had served in the Marines. Vince answered, “Yes, sir.” That was when the conversation got my attention.

They chatted for quite a while, Vince talking a bit about his tour in Desert Storm and Gary telling Vince about his sons – Dustin, Seth, and Jordan – and where they are stationed today – all three of them are still serving in the US Navy. One’s on a carrier, one’s a flight instructor, and the other is a helicopter pilot (I’m sorry if any of these details aren’t accurate, especially since Gary had already told me all about his sons).

What struck me about that conversation – and what made me think of it this weekend – was the great pride in both men’s voices. One had served; the other had three sons who are serving now. They had experienced different clashes, different conflicts, yet their respect for one another was palpable. No one was bragging, just telling their own stories.

The two parted as Vince headed off for his next game, and Gary turned to me and asked, “He played for you?” and I proudly answered, “Yes he did.”

It’s not too late. Thank a Veteran today

- Dan Witmer