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94-year-old vet stands on her one leg for anthem to make her point

Marian Morreale practiced how to stand for the last three months. She is a 94-year-old World War II veteran and her left leg was amputated last year.

But she practiced standing so that she could when the national anthem was sung at the opening game of the Sabres tonight.

She wanted to make a point.

"I think for these young athletes and the salaries they make, they should stand for the national anthem," she said. "But I don't think our president should use that word, SOB."

Wearing a Sabres jersey, she entered the ice at KeyBank Center in a wheelchair, then stood and leaned against her walker as she looked up at the flag, smiling broadly as she sang along during the anthem.

"I won't be able to put my arm across my heart. I'm on one leg, and I have to hang on to my walker," said Morreale, who does not have a prosthetic limb.

The Coast Guard veteran says she harbors no hard feelings toward the professional football players who are taking a knee when the national anthem is sung, but says the anthem is too sacred to become a forum for political statements.

She became aware of the national debate on taking a knee last year, while watching the news about protests when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem as he called attention to racism and police shootings of unarmed black men.

After President Trump's profane criticisms and call to fire players who refused to stand for the anthem late last month, players across the NFL started kneeling and linking arms in shows of solidarity during the anthem.

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If she could personally address the athletes, she said she would ask them to find a different venue for expressing their feelings.

"I'd just want to hold their hand and say, 'Be a man and stand, and forgive the president.' But I don't blame them for being mad," she said.

Her standing for the anthem was her son's idea. Vincent Morreale Jr., a 23-year Sabres' season ticketholder, said he was impressed by how the team has honored military veterans and approached Sabres officials last year.

"They wanted her to stand for the national anthem at last year's home opener but she was just too weak," he said.

Honoring veterans during the national anthem is nothing new for the Sabres.

"When we have our national anthem, we always have a member of the Armed Forces with our flag bearers right on the ice. It has been a tradition for us for years," said Chris Bandura, vice president of media relations for the Sabres. "The great thing about this program is we have had veterans of all ages participate."

Morreale's left leg was amputated above the knee in July 2016 because of poor circulation.

A few months ago, Vincent Morreale broached the subject with her again, and she was agreeable. So were the Sabres. Since then, she says she has practiced standing with her walker in her Hamburg home.

The national anthem, according to tonight's game program, lasted 2 minutes, immediately following a 90-second rendition of the Canadian national anthem. Morreale says she hopes she does not offend any Canadians, but she could not stand for that anthem because she lacks the strength.

Vincent Morreale says his mother wants to show her patriotism, which began a long time ago.

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When she was 20 years old, the former Marian Dougherty of South Buffalo enlisted with the Coast Guard in 1943. She would have right after the start of World War II, but her father refused to sign the early enlistment papers.

"He wouldn't sign for me," she said. "He was in World War I and injured in France. He didn't want me to leave home."

The Coast Guard was her second choice.

Morreale, who served for three years, said she had wanted to join the Marines.

"But this real good friend of mine who also wanted to serve said, 'Why don't we go into the Coast Guard?' She thought the uniforms were prettier. They were Navy blue, and to this day if you give me something Navy blue, I'll wear it," Morreale said.

She served in Michigan as a telegraph operator.

Her son says he remains in awe of his mother's courage as a young woman and now in old age.

"She actually had the courage to leave her home and serve in the military, and now she is taking another courageous step and standing for the national anthem," Vincent Morreale said. "Can you imagine having so much love for this country?"

Marian Morreale and her late husband, Vincent Sr., who served in the Army during World War II, raised four children, and Morreale says she is fond of sharing insights from the service with her grandchildren. He died at 88 in 2010.

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"When you leave at 20 years old and you think you know everything, it is a wonderful experience. You learn discipline, you learn to take orders with a smile and you learn who to keep company with. People judge who you are by your associates. I tell my grandkids that the Coast Guard 'grew me up.'"

Joan Brechtel, her daughter, who works as an Eden Central School District kindergarten teacher, says it is not unusual for her mother to cry during the anthem.

But on this night, there were no tears, just a big smile.

When the song was finished, it was to be an early evening for Marian Morreale.

With her point made, her family was planning to take her home.

"She doesn't have enough energy to stay," the daughter said. "She is 94."

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