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TPC Sawgrass salutes veterans, active military at The Players

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Updated: 5/08/2013 9:20 pm

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. -- Veterans and active military members were celebrated Wednesday at The Players Military Appreciation Day.

"When they came in and they know that we're recognizing them, that's all they want to do is feel a little appreciated and that's what we show them," said Steve Kupcha with Birdies for the Brave.

His group raises money for several military nonprofits.

Last year, they raised $3 million and expect to raise more than $4 million this year.

"There's an infinite number of programs that aren't supported by the Department of Defense or the VA, and we need to provide funding for them so our military members are set for life," said Kupcha.

As our nation's defense deals with devastating cuts due to sequestration, Naval Station Mayport's executive officer says fundraising is more vital now than ever before.

"Organizations like Birdies for the Brave, Wounded Warriors Project is being raised to help fill in the seams where perhaps other government agencies can't or don't have the resources to support," said Cmdr. Pat Pickard.

Thousands throughout the day packed the Patriots' Outpost. A place where war stories are shared like the day's events.

Jerry Maloney spent more than 40 years serving this country. Most of it with the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot. "You have a pal who would usually give his life for you. I just think it's the greatest group of guys in the world."

Reliving that military camaraderie is what brought him to this year's Players Championship. A spot usually reserved for high-rollers and dignitaries, Wednesday was for heroes like Maloney have one of the best seats in the house.

Overlooking a breathtaking view of the 18th hole, veterans and active service members are fed for free and soak up stories of the good old days.

"I'm just happy to be here amongst this same type of group because we have a camaraderie," said Maloney.  "This is just beautiful. This is America."

The evening ceremonies included "A Salute to the U.S. Navy" followed by a live performance by country music star Dierks Bentley.

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