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Lettermen of the USA honors Eli Gold, raises money to help veterans’ families

Eli Gold has called the action of many gridiron battles involving the Alabama Crimson Tide, but he never served on the battlefield as a member of the military.

The voice of Alabama football said this past Friday night that he has the highest respect for the men and women who fight for their country.

“You can never do enough for the military, for folks who have laid down their lives for us so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy today,” he said during the Lettermen of the USA One Yard at a Time Gala at The Club in Birmingham. “There’s nothing you can do that would satisfy what you need to do, because these people are magnificent.”

Gold was the athletic honoree and key speaker at the fundraising event that featured silent and public auctions. The military honoree was retired Marine Lt. Gen. Willie J. Williams, who was unable to attend but appeared in a video. LotUSA last had its gala in February 2020, opting to forgo the effort in 2021 because of the pandemic.

“COVID was why we didn’t have it,” founder and president Darryl Fuhrman said. “It’s amazing to be back and I think we’re back stronger than ever. We made it a point that we were going to come back stronger than ever and we think we’ve done that.”

Former Alabama, Auburn football players gather for Lettermen of the USA Gala from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Friday’s event launched LotUSA’s capital campaign to build the first Fisher House in Alabama.

“The Fisher House is a place where the families (of veterans or military personnel) can stay for free while their loved one is being treated at a military or a VA hospital,” said Brian Gawne, vice president of community relations for the Fisher House Foundation. “We have 92 houses across the country, but we don’t have one in Birmingham yet.”

Gawne said there are 127 major VA medical centers across the country, but only 45 have Fisher Houses nearby. Alabama is the only state in the Southeast that does not have one.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Gawne said. “The house here in Birmingham will have 16 suites. It will not only support the families of veterans being treated at the Birmingham VA, it will also serve those veterans the VA refers across town to the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital for specialized care. It’s a great opportunity.”

It’s been 10 years since Fuhrman launched the organization of former Alabama and Auburn university football players. The lettermen have annually provided gifts and support for military veterans. Assistance has come in the form of autographed footballs, motorized wheelchairs, lodging and more.

Former Auburn offensive guard Todd Boland has yet to miss a LotUSA Gala and he says he wouldn’t miss it.

“This is my third event,” he said. “I put it in my calendar every time it pops up. It’s a beautiful event.”

Birmingham native and former Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett expressed some concern about a forecast of snow on Saturday. But the Hollywood, Florida, resident didn’t let that possibility deter him.

“When former teammates call, man, you have to try to do what you can do to be there for them,” he said. “When I get the call and if I’m available, I’ll fly to Birmingham to hang out with the guys and to help them do whatever it is they’re doing.”

There was no shortage of military veterans at The Club on Friday night. Among them was Major Lee Wooten, a 105-year-old who fought in World War II. Wooten – his first name is Major, like former Alabama running back Major Ogilvie – was accompanied by his granddaughter’s husband, Dell McDonald.

“We call Major ‘Pop Pop’ and he’s very special to us,” said McDonald, who, like Wooten, lives in Madison. “He found out about this event a couple of months ago. He was invited and when he talks to my wife, Holly, that’s his granddaughter, he constantly says, ‘When are we going? When are we going?’ He’s been looking forward to this for quite some time.

“He just enjoys getting out and meeting people,” McDonald continued. “He just wants this generation to know what people like him did and the service he did. He’s always appreciated people coming up and saying, ‘Thank you for your service.’ That means a lot to him.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)