CHARLOTTE – As a longtime Panthers fan and long-ago recipient of the prestigious Purple Heart, Mike Stubbs is overwhelmed by the way the Panthers have reached out to military in the region.
"They just do an incredible job," Stubbs said. "They make sure the veterans are seen and respected."
Tuesday, Stubbs and four fellow Purple Heart veterans bestowed a humbling honor upon the Panthers, designating the organization as the first to be recognized as an NFL Purple Heart team.
"I attend a lot of the games, and I see what you do. It's amazing what you give," Stubbs said as he presented the Panthers with a Special Recognition Award from the Military Order of the Purple Heart. "We think it's time somebody gave something back to the Panthers."
The Panthers will present an official proclamation honoring the Military Order of the Purple Heart as a part of the NFL's annual "Salute to Service" program when the New England Patriots visit on Nov. 18.
But the relationship between the Panthers and the military isn't a once-a-year thing. The "Row of Honor" in the Bank of America Stadium stands is a part of every home game and always includes a Purple Heart recipient, and team personnel make multiple trips throughout the year to military bases in North and South Carolina.
"We have several military installations here, and a lot of retirees here are military," said head coach Ron Rivera, who grew up in a military family. "We have such a good relationship with the military."
Stubbs is commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Wounded Warriors chapter 634, which serves Purple Heart recipients in a seven-county region of North Carolina that includes Charlotte. The Purple Heart, established by George Washington as the Badge of Military Merit in 1782 and first awarded under its current name in 1932, is reserved for combat-wounded veterans.
"The single bond that unites members in the order is that each has sustained a wound inflicted by an enemy in combat," Stubbs said. "The members' common bond is that they have given up their own blood for their country.
"I want fans to walk away with an understanding of what it means to be a veteran and what it means to live in the greatest country on Earth. Veterans are one of the reasons that we can live like we do."
Veterans like Tom Farebrother, who attended Tuesday's ceremony and will be at the Patriots game as a guest of honor. Farebrother received his Purple Heart in 1944 when, as a Naval officer trained at Pearl Harbor, the Marines enlisted him for a successful combat operation in the Marshall Islands that left him wounded.
"When they play the Navy hymn or the Marine hymn, I stand for both of them," said Farebrother, who expressed his appreciation for what the Panthers are doing to honor his sacrifice. "It's wonderful. We're grateful."
Panthers team president Danny Morrison, whose father received a Purple Heart in the Korean War, presented a copy of the proclamation to the purple-clad veterans Tuesday. Against the Patriots, the Panthers will become the first NFL team to wear the Purple Heart insignia on the back of their helmets.
"It's a special honor for the team," Panthers director of community relations Riley Fields said. "The Purple Heart crosses over all military service branches, so we're pleased that the NFL has allowed the team to carry that distinction."
For Stubbs, a member of the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam who received his Purple Heart in 1967, the feeling is mutual.
"We are so proud to be here representing the Military Order of the Purple Heart," Stubbs said. "The Carolina Panthers include North Carolina and South Carolina, and if you put the two states together, there are more military personnel located in these two states than any other place in the country. The way the Panthers reach out to them is incredible."