Everybody’s first visit to Boston’s Fenway Park is memorable.
But Bucksport native Ben Arnold’s first trip will be special.
When Arnold makes his trip to Fenway Park on Wednesday night for the interleague game against the Chicago Cubs, he will be going as an honored guest of the Red Sox.
Arnold is a decorated Navy man and Army National Guard veteran who was selected for the Red Sox’s “Hats Off to Heroes” program.
That means he will be honored by the team during the fourth inning for his military service.
Arnold will be escorted to the Red Sox dugout, and he will stand on top of it while his picture and the highlights of his military career will be shown on the Jumbotron.
“I definitely don’t deserve it, but I’ll take it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Arnold, who was driving up to New England from South Carolina with his wife, Jennifer, on Monday.
Arnold’s name was submitted to the Red Sox by his sister, Danielle, and her husband, Anthony Taliento.
“I was amazed that I was chosen. I firmly believe there are hundreds of other people more deserving than me. I have a lot of friends who are still recovering from injuries and some who didn’t make it home who deserve it more than I do. But I’m honored to be a part of it,” said Arnold.
The 29-year-old served five years of active duty in the Navy and had tours in the Persian Gulf from 2005 to 2006 and in 2009 where they provided combat support. He switched over to the Army National Guard and served in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2011 to 2012, when he helped train Afghan police forces.
His awards include the Army Commendation Medal, the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Award, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Star, U.S. Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Combat Action Badge.
He is serving as a sergeant in the 133rd Military Police Company in Timmonsville, South Carolina.
His sister called him with the news of the honor early this month.
“She told me I had to come home because I had been chosen. I said ‘chosen for what?’ It came as a complete surprise,” said Arnold.
He said one of his best friends in Afghanistan, Sgt. First Class Matthew Bradford Thomas from Easley, South Carolina, listed the Red Sox as his favorite team. He was killed in action.
“I think about him every day. I know he will be at the game with me,” said Arnold.
Anthony Taliento said he, his wife and son Vincent had been to Red Sox games this season and witnessed the Hats Off to Heroes program.
“We knew Ben was coming up for the Fourth of July, so we reached out to the Red Sox,” explained Taliento, who found out more about the program and sent an email to the team.
“It didn’t hurt to ask,” he reasoned. “I figured they would have something going on during the Fourth of July, but they got back to us and said they would like to honor him and gave us a list of dates we could choose from.
“We’re proud of him,” he said.
The Red Sox gave them four free tickets and told them to check in when they get to Fenway.
Anthony and Danielle Taliento will be accompanying Ben and Jennifer Arnold.
Ben Arnold said his favorite Red Sox player is first baseman Mike Napoli.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing him. We used to talk about him in Afghanistan because he wears number 12, and I was in the first platoon, second squadron,” said Arnold.
Arnold said watching Red Sox games when they were available was a popular form of entertainment.
And he pointed out that even in villages in Afghanistan, “you’d see the locals wearing Red Sox hats. It was pretty funny.”
He admits he will be nervous but is looking forward to it.
The 2003 Bucksport High School graduate intends to spend 20 years serving his country and said he likes his tour of duty in South Carolina.
“I went into the Navy because my father, [John], was a Navy man. It’s big on my father’s side, and I didn’t want the tradition to stop with me. But I really enjoy the Army. I definitely enjoy having my boots on the ground,” he said.