SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The Syracuse Crunch have named Korean War Veteran Airman First Class Leonard Graf honorary captain for Military Appreciation Night on Friday, November 8th.
The 90-year-old Graf met the team Wednesday and delivered a pre-practice speech at the War Memorial.
“I think the message I was trying to get across to the team was we, the people of Syracuse, appreciate them, the Crunch, more than the Crunch realizes,” Graf tells NewsChannel 9.
Before going out on the ice, Crunch defenseman Luke Witkowski gave Graf a jersey with the captain’s “C” and the number 90 on it.
Crunch Chief Operating Officer Jim Sarosy says, “We take a lot of pride playing in the War Memorial and doing a very, very small part in bringing attention to our area veterans, specifically our Central New York veterans.”
Graf enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in August 1948. After basic training at Shepard Air Force Base, he attended A&E Mechanics School at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. He completed his training and was assigned to the Second Air Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan.
During the Korean War, Graf served aboard an SB-17G Rescue Aircraft as a rescue spotter and mechanic.
Graf is also a lifelong hockey fan and was among the original group of investors in 1967 to bring the EHL’s Syracuse Blazers to Syracuse.
Crunch Goalie Mike Condon gave Graf a tour of the team’s War Memorial facilities.
He says, “It’s great to have the support, especially from a man who sacrificed so much and a generation that sacrificed so much.”
From 1970 to 1980, Graf was a youth hockey coach with the Midstate Youth Hockey Association. His passion for the game inspired four of his sons to become youth hockey coaches with three still actively coaching.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Graf was also the co-owner and operator of the Shove Rink Hockey Pro Shop, providing equipment and skate sharpening services to local youth hockey players and skaters.
Graf has been a fixture at the local rinks, watching his children and grandchildren grow up playing the sport he loves. He has been a fan of the Syracuse Crunch since the early seasons and continues to attend games whenever possible.
Graf has been married to the love of his life, Jean (Wharton) Graf, for 66 years. They met as pen pals while Graf was serving overseas during the Korean War. They are the proud parents of nine children and have 21 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The Military Appreciation Game Friday, November 8 will feature a special pregame ceremony and the Crunch will wear camouflage specialty jerseys with a postgame auction of select jerseys. Camouflage mystery pucks will also be on sale at a table on the concourse for $10.
As part of the Military Appreciation game, the Syracuse Crunch are offering complimentary tickets for all veterans and active military members, including reservists and National Guard, with a military ID, limited to one per ID.
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