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First Lady and Jill Biden in town to see World Series, salute veterans

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 20, 2011 - First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, were in town Wednesday to attend the World Series but also to join with Major League Baseball in supporting the nation's veterans, military personnel -- and their families.

Before the game, the women and dignitaries from Major League Baseball and the Cardinals met with about 75 veterans and their family members at Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center. The event included the screening of a new public service announcement encouraging Americans to support the military that features the first lady, New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Johnny Damon who are from military families.

"Every day, you all inspire us," Obama told the gathering. "And that's really what has led Jill and I to be so passionate about this issue. We want the country to know your stories. We want the country to know of your sacrifice. Because if they know, then we all can't help but step up."

The MLB invited Obama and Biden to throw out the ceremonial pitch at Game 1 which was dedicated to its "Welcome Back Veterans" initiative. Obama and Biden have an ongoing campaign called Joining Forces that supports veterans and current service members and their families.

"With Major League Baseball shining a light on these events, we want America to know that everyone can do something; everyone should do something,'' Obama said. "Every business, every church, every individual, every school, every teacher -- we should all know who are the military families in our midst and find out what they need and step up and provide that."

MLB commissioner Bud Selig made the introductions. Also in attendance were Cardinals executives Bill DeWitt Jr. and Bill DeWitt III, Mets owner Fred Wilpon and Cardinal Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, who is an Army veteran.

Obama thanked the veterans for their warm greeting and told them to sit down and "rest yourselves."

"We are truly thrilled to be here today. And Jill and I are very happy to be making our husbands jealous, too -- because what are we doing? We're at the World Series. And where are they? We don't really know,'' Obama said, laughing. "But they're not very happy."

Biden, who wore a Cardinal red dress, clarified her allegiance.

"Now, some of you may know that I'm a big baseball fan -- and I'm a Philly girl. But I'm really going to set that aside for today -- because we're really here to honor the veterans and their families. And I couldn't be more thrilled to be a part of this special day," she said.

The Bidens' son Beau is the attorney general of Delaware and a member of the Delaware National Guard.

"As a military mom, I know firsthand how a simple act of kindness can make such a difference to a service member or a veteran," Biden said. "That is why the first lady and I created Joining Forces -- to recognize, honor, and support our military families. It is our sacred duty to honor the service of those who sacrifice for our country -- and we can all play a role with a simple act of service.

After their presentations, Obama and Biden met with the veterans and their family members, sharing hugs and smiles and autographing baseball caps given out as party favors.

Army veteran Augusta Boyd, 52, of St. Louis, an outpatient at Jefferson Barracks, said he didn't find out until Tuesday night that he had been invited to attend the event. He called the event "historic."

"It was uplifting to find that so many people cared about what we did in the military,'' he said.

Wilkie Rice, 44, an Army veteran who also works at Jefferson Barracks, was impressed by the first lady.

"Her message was awesome -- that no matter how much people are struggling they never scale back their dreams," he said.

"She's even more beautiful when you meet her in person," he added.

It was a busy day for Obama who traveled to St. Louis after joining her husband at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va., on the third day of his American Jobs Act bus tour. During that visit, she announced that the American Logistics Association and 270 affiliate companies have committed to hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.

The White House said the association's jobs commitment will fulfill a quarter of the president's challenge to the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.

More than three-quarters of the nation's 23 million living veterans served during a war or official period of conflict, according to the VA.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.