Rocky Bleier returns to Appleton for Wisconsin Veterans Village fundraiser in his name – Post-Crescent

APPLETON – War hero and four-time Super Bowl champion Rocky Bleier has returned to his hometown of Appleton this week to help raise awareness around community support for veterans at a golf tournament dedicated to him.
The Wisconsin Veterans Village, a community in Grand Chute that offers affordable living options for veterans, is hosting the inaugural Rocky Bleier Golf Classic Thursday at Ridgeway Country Club in Neenah. Money raised from the tournament will go toward Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin, which partners with the Wisconsin Veterans Village to provide programs and services for the village’s residents and families.
Bleier, whose story is well-known by many in the Fox Valley, was the guest of honor at a meet-and-greet event at the village, located at 2919 W Glenpark Dr., Wednesday night. He talked with community members and fans, and discussed the importance of community support for veterans.
“One of the things that I have found out over all these many years is that we didn’t get to where we are today as individuals by ourselves,” Bleier said. “We got here because of someone, some thing; we got here because of an opportunity, we got here because of a parent, a mentor, a teacher, a fellow ballplayer, we got here because somebody took an interest and cared. And I think that is what this community has shown, at least for me, over the years, every time I get a chance to come back here.”
Bleier, 76, grew up in Appleton, in an apartment above what is now McGuiness Irish Pub, but was then Bleier’s Bar, owned by his family. Bleier graduated from Xavier High School in 1964, where he was a star running back and captain of the football team.
After a college career at Notre Dame, where he was a part of the 1966 national championship-winning team and team captain in 1967, Bleier was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played only his rookie season in 1968 before he was drafted elsewhere: Vietnam.
While stationed in Vietnam, Bleier was injured by an enemy rifle bullet and shrapnel from a nearby grenade explosion during an ambush. Doctors told Bleier he wouldn’t play football again.
But in 1970, Bleier returned to the Steelers training camp. He spent years recovering from his injury and trying to get more playing time. Finally, in 1974, five years after he was injured in Vietnam, Bleier earned a starting spot on the team. He continued to play for the Steelers through 1980 and was part of the 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979 Super Bowl-winning teams.
Bleier was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam.
Bleier continues to advocate for veterans. He’s the national spokesman for NaVOBA, the National Veteran-Owned Business Association; he serves on the board of the National Veterans Foundation; he helped organize events for the Flight 93 National Memorial; and he has taken part in a number of other organizations and initiatives.
John Maino, executive director of the Wisconsin Veterans Village, said he was excited to have Bleier’s support for the golf fundraiser. The Wisconsin Veterans Village had some connections to Bleier, including Veterans Village co-founder Tom Wiltzius, who went to Xavier High School with Bleier, and Maino contacted Bleier about the opportunity.
“What he did is such an inspiration to so many wounded troops, by him coming back the way he did,: Maino said. “Surely one of the greatest stories, I think in sports-slash-military history that’s ever been recorded in our nation’s history, and I really, truly mean that sincerely.”
The idea for the Veterans Village was sparked by Wiltzius, a retired army major who served in the Vietnam War, when he was searching for a home for his mother, a World War II veteran, and was disappointed with how veterans are often treated at the end of their lives.
Wisconsin Veterans Village president Mike Thomas, a retired air force captain, said the village has nearly completed the first phase of development, which involved renovating the 48-unit apartment complex. The next phase, for which Thomas said a capital campaign will begin around January, will include building a senior independent living facility and an “Honor Home” for veterans nearing the end of their lives.
“This model has never been done in the United States, of affordable housing through all stages of a veteran’s life,” Thomas said.
While the golf tournament is raising money to support the Veterans Village, Bleier said he also hopes it can raise general awareness among community members about the importance of supporting veterans, many of whom come away from their time in service with mental and emotional difficulties that affect their lives.
“You don’t understand unless you’ve been over there, the pressure that it puts on not only the soldier, but also the family,” Bleier said. “And the mental pressure and the psychological pressure.”
While Bleier is in town, he will also make an appearance at Xavier, at the school’s football field, which is named after him, for the team’s Friday night game against Waupaca.
Bleier, who said he returns to the Fox Valley “periodically,” said he hopes to make more frequent visits for the annual Wisconsin Veterans Village golf tournament in his name.
“I think the success of this first tournament will morph into another tournament. So I will have a steady gig of coming back at least once every year,” Bleier said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
RELATED:After emotional ESPN documentary, Rocky Bleier brings one-man play to Xavier High School
RELATED:Veterans find community, resources at Wisconsin Veterans Village in Appleton
Contact Kelli Arseneau at (920) 213-3721 or Follow her on Twitter at @ArseneauKelli


Leave a Comment