BELGRADE – More than 60 high school softball players from around the state came to Belgrade to play in the fourth annual Veterans Memorial Softball Classic on Friday.

The event features five teams, each representing a branch of the military: the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, and the Coast Guard.

They play to honor the sacrifices of our servicemen and women, but to remember those we’ve lost. And it’s especially important for the families of those fallen soldiers.

“A lot of times, veterans service members coming home – the families are the ones that suffer the most from the loss and being able to recognize them in a community event, I think it means a lot to them,” said Cody Saranto, a Sergeant in the U.S. Marines Corp.

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One of those family members honored is Bill Thomas, whose father, Lieutenant Alfred Thomas, born in Radersburg, Montana, died in combat during the Korean war. He was an extremely decorated Navy pilot, being awarded the distinguished Flying Cross twice. Thomas was just 18 months old at the time of his death.

Each year the tournament picks five Montana military members from each branch of the service who died in combat to recognize and play in honor of. For the Navy team, they are playing in honor of Alfred Thomas.

“He still was an example and role model for me. I knew that loving the country and his family and standing up for our values and trying to keep our country free meant so much to him. And I think I’ve tried to do the same thin. And I always hoped he’d be proud of the man I am today,” said Thomas.

The other soldiers honored are the following: the Army team is playing for Sgt. Travis M. Arndt, the Air Force honors Capt. Charles G. Dudley, LTJG. David C. Brostrom is being represented by the Coast Guard and the Marines hit the diamond for PFC. John D. Blinn.

This tournament goes far beyond the sport of softball, but Thomas believes the sport and the service are closely linked.

“You learn all the team values and putting others before yourself. And the armed services, they’re also a team and it’s about putting others before yourself, so I think it’s a great matchup,” said Thomas.

To celebrate those in the service and to put a smile on the face of the families that lost an important piece of their lives, makes this event more powerful than the sport of softball itself.