Editors Note: Due to the impending weather, this event has been cancelled by organizers.
Army may have snapped Navy's 14-game win streak against the Cadets last year in one of college football's most enduring rivalries, but to the visiting veterans at the Brigantine Elks Lodge, the Army-Navy game is more about camaraderie than wins and losses.
The Brigantine Elks have maintained a tradition that – while not as long as the 118 years Army and Navy have squared off on the gridiron – local veterans of America's service organizations have come to love.
Each year, when the game rolls around to mark the end of the regular football season for both programs, the Elks bus in veterans from the Vineland Memorial Veterans Home, Veterans Haven in Ancora and other facilities for an afternoon of fun and camaraderie.
This year's game is 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, with festivities at the Elks lodge starting around 11 a.m. And of course, all veterans from Brigantine are not only welcome but encouraged to attend.
“There's nothing I'd like more than to see every veteran in Brigantine show up,” said longtime Brigantine Veterans Committee Chairman Joe Kelly. “The more vets we can get from Brigantine, the happier I'll be.”
Typically about 35 to 45 veterans are transported in from the veterans homes and given a formal escort by the Somers Point American Legion Riders Post 352 once their caravan reaches the bridge. The lodge is prepared to feed and accommodate about 150 veterans, said Kelly.
The day will start around 11 a.m. with a welcoming ceremony featuring the Sandpipers bagpipe brigade, a prayer and flag salute, and a welcome address by city officials. At noon, guests will be given a gourmet lunch of shrimp, prime rib and crab cakes.
“It's the committee that does all the work, and it's quite an operation,” Kelly said. “We have close to 30 people on the committee, and they're all giving, sincere and hardworking people – which is what you have to have to get these things off the ground.
“It's a huge undertaking, but we love doing it,” Kelly added. “Anything we can do to give the vets a couple of hours of friendship and fellowship, give them a change of pace and get them out of the home for a couple hours, we're glad to do it. It's great seeing them, and they enjoy seeing vets from other groups.”
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After lunch the veterans are invited to play bingo before the 3 p.m. kickoff to the football game, which is back at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field after a stop in Baltimore last year.
The vast majority of Army-Navy games have been played in Philadelphia, which is considered the midway point between the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
“They go into bingo mode after lunch, and they always seem to really enjoy that,” said Kelly.
He noted that the ladies who run the Zumba classes at Brigantine Community Center also run the Elks bingo tournament, which could factor into the enthusiasm for some.
Around 4:30 p.m. the vets are treated to another meal before heading back to their homesteads.
“Any more, this event has come to serve as the only time of the year some of these guys get to see each other until the next time we do it,” Kelly said. “It's a time to catch up on old times and enjoy each other's company, which is great to see and great to be a part of.”