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Navy player to honor fallen Vietnam vet in Army-Navy game

Air Force wide receiver Drew Coleman catches a touchdown pass over Navy safety Tra'ves Bush during the game at Falcons Stadium in Coiorado Springs, Colorado, Saturday, October 6, 2012. Navy beat Air Force in overtime, 28-21.

Charles Silva served his country with distinction for 12 years. A naval aviator, Lt. Silva flew F-8 Crusader fighter jets during the Vietnam War and was particularly proud to have been the pilot who delivered top-secret documents to Washington, D.C. during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Silva did not deserve to die the way he did, especially considering his background as a decorated veteran. The Virginia resident was murdered by three youths after telling them they were trespassing and could not ride their all-terrain vehicles on private property he served as caretaker for.

The 77-year-old Silva was beaten and kicked so severely he suffered brain damage, lapsed into a coma and never came out. He passed away Oct. 23, just over a month after the attack.

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Former Navy football player Chris Reaghard, a 1995 graduate, was a friend of the family and wanted to do something to recognize Silva. Reaghard reached out to current Navy players to see if any might be willing to wear Silva’s service patch as a tribute to the deceased veteran.

In the weeks leading up to the Army-Navy game, various service patches are laid out on a huge table in the equipment room so players can pick those they want sewn on their jerseys for the annual showdown. Senior safety Tra’ves Bush read a letter from Ken Silva about the situation surrounding his father's death and was moved.

“After I read the letter, it was kind of a no-brainer to wear Mr. Silva’s patch. I wanted to do this to honor him and his family,” Bush said. “It’s not a big deal to me what patch I wear, but for them it means a lot. This is a way to keep a veteran’s memory alive. It feels good that something as small as one of us wearing a man’s patch during the Army-Navy game can uplift a family and be a great remembrance of him.”

Capt. Reaghard still serves in the Navy and lives in Norfolk, Va. He met Lt. Silva through a neighbor who is his niece and the two had naturally talked about their Navy service. He learned that Silva flew combat missions from the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier commissioned in 1957. Reaghard was familiar with that ship because a relative had also served aboard her.

“Lt. Silva was a real humble, down-to-earth man. That a veteran who fought for our country would die at the hands of the very United States citizens he put his life on the line to protect is just sickening,” Reaghard said. “When I heard what happened, I was irate. I could not believe that three young punks would jump a 77-year-old like that.”

Reaghard was thrilled that Bush, a two-year starter at safety, would pay tribute to Lt. Silva by wearing his F-8 Crusaders patch. “It means a lot to the family that Tra’ves would do this and I want to personally thank him for it,” Reaghard said. “I contacted Tra’ves through Facebook and told him I’ll take him out to dinner or do something else nice if he ever gets to Norfolk.”

Bush, who just received his service assignment of surface warfare, believes he will probably be stationed in Norfolk initially. The South Carolina native, who leads Navy with 76 tackles, said the fact he could honor a deceased veteran such as Silva in this way is another example of the far-reaching impact of the Army-Navy game.

“It goes beyond the rivalry between the teams. Worldwide, people are watching this game and it means so much to so many people,” he said. “It’s little things like this that bring more meaning to the game.”

Ken Silva said his father played college football at Brown University and enrolled in Officer Candidate School after graduating. Upon retiring from the Navy, the elder Silva settled in Chesapeake, Va., where he served as company pilot for Van Sumner Inc., a tennis court construction company.

Silva eventually bought the company, which owned a significant amount of property near the Hampton Roads Airport in Chesapeake. It was that land that Silva was preparing for hunting season when he ran across the youths that would take his life.

Ken Silva, who lives in New Brownfels, Texas, said one suspect has been arrested and charged with felony assault by mob. Police are still investigating and additional murder charges may eventually be filed.

The younger Silva said he was overcome with emotion when Reaghard informed him that Bush would be wearing his father’s service patch in the Army-Navy game.

“That Tra’ves would agree to honor my dad in that special way brought tears to my eyes. It is an incredible tribute and our whole family is very humbled by it. I couldn’t think of a great tribute to my dad,” Ken Silva said. “I plan to sit down and write a letter to Tra’ves that truly expresses how honored we are that he would do this.”

Wearing service patches is a tradition in the Army-Navy game and there are all kinds of stories behind why players choose a particular patch. Senior linebacker Brye French will be wearing the SEAL patch of Brendan Looney, the former Naval Academy lacrosse player who was killed in a helicopter crash over Afghanistan. Senior slotback John Howell, who is dressing for the Army-Navy game despite having suffered a season-ending knee injury, will wear the Marine Corps patch of former Navy football player J.P. Blecksmith, who was the first officer killed in Operation Phantom Fury during Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

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