Wounded Bronx Marine lands seat next to First Lady Michelle Obama for Game 1 of Series

NY Daily News - October 28, 2009

by Michael Daly

The White House could not have imagined it was a step behind generous Daily News readers when it invited a wounded Marine to join the First Lady at tonight's opening game of the World Series.

Lance Cpl. Michael Stilson had already gotten a pair of tickets as part of an outpouring by News readers offering to help wounded vets see the Yankees try for another world championship.

Of course, the 22-year-old recovering at Bethesda Naval Medical Center was still more than honored by the offer from the White House. He did not want just to say thanks, but no thanks.

Stilson called the company that gave a total of four World Series tickets to disabled vets in response to an article in The News. He explained that he planned to go with the White House group and was giving the company's tickets to another wounded warrior.

He made sure the company understood he was still totally appreciative of its generosity.

"In that Stadium, anywhere I'm sitting is wonderful," he later said.

In the meantime, word may have reached the Marine higher-ups that Stilson already had tickets. Or maybe the command simply decided on another wounded Marine to accompany Michelle Obama and the vice president's wife, Jill Biden.

"You think you got one thing planned out perfectly and the Marine Corps chooses instead," Stilson said. "They told me I was going, then I wasn't any more."

Stilson was not the least disappointed he would be sitting among the fans. And, he was thrilled when he learned that the Marine going with the First Lady was a buddy and equally devoted Yankee fan, 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Daniel Aristy of the Bronx.

Aristy grew up in Soundview and joined the Marines shortly after turning 18. He had been in Iraq two months when a roadside bomb found him. He was at the hospital in Bethesda on Monday, when he was told he'd be part of a White House delegation to the World Series.

"I didn't believe it at first," he said. "Then I found out it was true."

He will attend the opening game with the First Lady.

"First time going to the World Series, first time going to the new Stadium," Aristy said.

Yesterday, Aristy and Stilson were both making ready their uniforms. They had been instructed to wear them to the game, or Stilson might have opted for other World Series attire.

"I'd be wearing my Derek Jeter jersey or my Mariano Rivera jersey," Stilson said.

Stilson's family is rooted in New York, where his grandfather, uncle and cousin either were or are with the FDNY. Stilson grew up in Washington State.

"I was the only Yankee fan," he said.

He was 18 and on the way to boot camp when his grandfather took him to his first and only game at the old Yankee Stadium.

"When I walked into that Stadium with my grandfather it felt like I was 4 years old going to my first ballgame," Stilson said.

The other hallowed place was his grandfather's firehouse, Ladder 9/Engine 33, which lost 10 firefighters on 9/11.

"That is my real reason for joining the Marine Corps," Stilson said.

Stilson arrived in Iraq in 2007 and had been there only six weeks when he was wounded.

He has decided to give his other ticket to a buddy and fellow Marine, Staff Sgt. Thomas Sweeney, whose brother was killed in Afghanistan six years ago this week. The brother, Army Special Force Staff Sgt. Paul Sweeney, was adopted as an honorary firefighter by a Staten Island firehouse. He was wearing an FDNY pin when he was shot in an ambush.

This morning, Thomas Sweeney and Stilson will drive up from Bethesda. Aristy will fly up with the First Lady. She is scheduled to visit the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx before the game, which has been dedicated to veterans and their families.

Obama, Biden, Aristy, Stilson and Sweeney will all be in the new Stadium when everybody rises to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," the anthem of the nation that the veterans built.