Air Force veteran Bill Lightner is excited to attend his first Penn State home football game on Saturday against Northwestern.
"I think it's going to be a heck of an experience," Lightner said. "I'm a big Penn State fan, so it'll be nice to see [Joe] Paterno get his 400th win."
Lightner is one of 41 veterans and staff members from the Van Zandt VA Medical Center an anonymous Penn State alumna is sending to the game as a "thank you" for their service. Lightner, who volunteers at the center for about 60 hours a month, said he can't thank whoever provided the tickets enough.
"Being down there with more than 100,000 people is going to be crazy, but crazy in a great way," he said.
Last month, the donor contacted Susan Sommers, the hospital's public affairs program assistant, and asked her if she thought any veterans might be interested in attending the game.
Sommers asked the female benefactor, a Penn State graduate who served in the military for 32 years, how many she should try to round up.
"She told me just to see how many I could come up with and to let her know," Sommers said. "So then I just sort of reached for the stars because I knew a lot of the veterans around here would love to go to a game."
Sommers found a group of veterans who span "across the board" in regards to the center's patients. Veterans of the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars will be attending along with veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Some of the veterans are wheelchair-bound or are primary care patients, so staff will go to the game with them to ensure proper care. Other veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and asked if they might be able to take family members or close friends as guests.
"I asked [the donor] if that would be okay, and she made it happen," Sommers said.
Sommers said she didn't know how the benefactor was able to secure so many tickets for the game, especially when some of them had to be handicapped-accessible.
The donor is also providing them with a catered pre-game tailgate, Sommers said.
The benefactor wanted to remain anonymous and told Sommers she and her husband didn't want attention for their donation.
"She was very adamant that what they were doing was all about thanking the veterans," Sommers said.
Army veteran Michael McGuire plans to attend the game. He said the gesture shows that people are still out there who want to put an effort into thanking the men and women who put their lives on the line for America.
"It's really nice to be appreciated for keeping the country safe and making sure the fighting that we all dislike stays on the other shore," McGuire said.
McGuire said he is amazed at the amount of tickets the benefactor provided.
The fact that somebody wants to make that big of a statement and fill that many seats in Beaver Stadium makes a veteran feel good, he said.
"It's great that we get to go out and support our local team, and at the same time, get to spend some time and have the camaraderie like we had when we were in the service," McGuire said. "A lot of guys miss that, and they miss getting out and having some fun."
Mirror Staff Writer Scott Muska is at 946-7435.