He spent close to nine months rehabilitating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, but by Christmas, he was able to get out for a shopping trip with his sister.

"I can't tell you how often people come up to me and say, 'Thank you for your service,' " Tony says. "Everyone is always really supportive."

In remembrance

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For John Sheldon, the meaning of the Army-Navy game has evolved over the years. In 1963, he enrolled at the Naval Academy, and he and his fellow freshmen were excited for their first taste of the rivalry, thrilled about traveling to the game to support the team. Eight days before the game was supposed to be played, President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.

"It was a very emotional time," says Sheldon, who lives in Columbia. "The Army-Navy game was postponed two weeks, and then Jackie Kennedy encouraged the Navy and Army to go forward with the game. Those weeks leading up to the game are still ablaze in my mind."

Sheldon retired from the military in the mid-1980s, but he continued to travel to the game each year with his wife, Alice, and her brother, Paul Jurgens, a former Marine. When Jurgens, a Port Authority police officer, was killed when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, the game took on a even deeper meaning for the Sheldons.

"The games were so important to him," Sheldon says. "It's not a direct Army-Navy tie, but we still go to the games in his memory. And his son, Paul Jurgens Jr., is here with us."

"It was hard to come today," Alice Sheldon says. "The last Army-Navy game Paul came to was here in Baltimore. But it's good, too."

Football over graduation
Sometimes, the game is a chance to make someone in your family proud. Lt. Col. Timothy Chmura, whose son, Brian, is a senior middle linebacker for Army, told his son he would have only one week this year that he could come home from his tour in Iraq. He asked: Would you rather I come home for graduation or Army-Navy?

"I told him Army-Navy, no question," Brian Chmura says.

And so Timothy Chmura, a military police officer working border control in Iraq, spent three days flying home to see his son play the final college game of his career. Before the game, Brian scribbled the words "Make Him Proud" on his wristband for his dad. The Black Knights didn't win, but Chmura played well, finishing with nine tackles.

"It hurts that I wasn't able to win this game for him," Brian Chmura says. "But it meant a lot to me that he was here. He would call me every Saturday this season, but knowing he was here to see my last game means a lot."

Both Chmuras understood, though, just as the Odiernos and the Sheldons did, that it was about more than just the game.

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com