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Retired Ranger true to his country

Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor and high esprit de corps of the Rangers.

Bill Anton has compressed vertebrae, two shot knees, a bum shoulder, no feeling in his feet, suffers from diabetes, beat bladder cancer and has post-traumatic stress disorder.

He is a man’s man. Tough and dependable.

He also can’t finish a sentence about a certain honor bestowed him without his voice cracking and tears falling from his eyes.

“Shocked, humbled and honored beyond belief,” Anton said. “You can’t politic for this. It has to come from your soldiers and NCOs. My men. They pushed for it. It touches me more than you can imagine.”

He is a retired lieutenant colonel who in August will be inducted into the United States Army Ranger Hall of Fame, the first Nevadan to receive such recognition and a man who guided the most decorated Rangers unit of the Vietnam War. He has seen and experienced things few can comprehend.

Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster, and fight harder than any other soldier.

Anton on Saturday evening threw out the first pitch at Cashman Field before the 51s-Tacoma game, a ceremonial toss on the day we again remembered the largest amphibious attack in military history.

His D-Day lob made it across the plate on a night meant to honor local disabled veterans, a 60-year-old lefty who also played a little football at Nebraska but whose love of sports always was bested by that of his country.

Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.

He once was the country’s highest-ranking ROTC cadet who later took part in the first tactical parachute jump onto a polar ice cap in Alaska.

If you fell into the water, you had three minutes to get out or die. If you fell in with as much equipment as Anton carried that day in 1971, you weren’t getting out. You figure a first pitch wouldn’t rattle him much.

“I did lose a little sleep over it this week,” Anton said. “I wanted to get it over the plate. At least I did better than Mayor (Oscar Goodman).”

I knew there was something I liked about this guy.

Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress, and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.

Anton’s son, Mike, is a Double-A pitcher in the Angels’ organization, and his daughter, Susan, is a presidential scholar from Georgetown University who works for Homeland Security. Anton moved to Las Vegas in 2003 from Maryland. He likes the weather here better. So does his sore and damaged body.

The effects of Agent Orange, like with so many veterans, have guaranteed him a life of physical struggle. But he expresses no regret in his words. No anger in his message.

He is entirely devoted to Company H (Ranger) 75th Infantry (Airborne), to the 177 men who served under him in Vietnam, to those who made this Hall of Fame moment possible.

“Every man we had deserves to stand with me” on Aug. 5 in Fort Benning, Ga., Anton said. “Never have I seen such gallantry and intrepid bravery every day as I did displayed by those men.”

Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle, for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

He lost just one man in Vietnam. One day, he was injured extracting members of his team when his helicopter was shot down. So he called for another and went back in twice more to get more Rangers.

This is a courageous man who has led a fascinating life, a 100 percent disabled veteran who after his retirement in 1990 has dedicated himself to improving the lives of those who also fought.

Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.

“It’s a good night to honor veterans,” Anton said after his first pitch. “We are just a humble, normal group of guys.”

I don’t know much.

I know this: Bill Anton has led his life by the Ranger Creed, and nothing is normal about that.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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