Veterans Day has deep meaning for former Rutland High School and Norwich University football player Anthony Purdy.
“I think you reflect on the sacrifices other people have made,” Purdy said from his job at Offutt Air Force Base about 15 miles from Omaha, Nebraska. “I know some of the students from Norwich who were killed while on active duty over the last decade and a half.”
Purdy’s journey to football was not your typical one. He lived in New Zealand until he was 16 where the sport he played was rugby.
Football was not completely foreign to him.
“We got the Super Bowl on TV over there and Monday Night Football each week,” Purdy said. “And my dad was American.”
When he reported to coach Mike Norman’s camp in August, he did not know all the nuances of the game the way his teammates did.
Then, he got moved to defense. Now, he was in his element.
“Tackling and a lot of the other skills in football were the same skills as in rugby,” Purdy said. “It was pretty easy to make that change.”
It must have been. Purdy became one of the better players in the state. He was selected to play in the 2001 Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, the annual senior high school all-star football game between Vermont and New Hampshire.
Then, came the time to make the college decision.
“I got recruited by a couple of schools for football but Norwich was the best fit,” Purdy said.
The nation’s oldest private military college had the regimen that Purdy felt he required.
“I needed a lot of structure and organization. I needed someone to tell me where to be and what to do,” Purdy said.
It didn’t hurt that Norman was a standout football player at Norwich. A 1986 graduate, Norman was a Kodak Little All-American offensive lineman and today is in the school’s Hall of Fame.
“I still consider coach Norman to be a huge influence in my life,” Purdy said.
Purdy, in fact, thought he would coach football and be a physical education teacher after Norwich.
But the pull toward the military was always there. His father had served in the Navy.
Purdy said he has no regrets. He has attained the rank of Major and is in his 15th year in the United States Air Force.
He has made special friendships while serving his country.
“There is a instant level of camaraderie and connection that is really unique in the military just as there is in football,” Purdy said.
Omaha is a large city but Purdy said it has a small-city feel much like Rutland.
“The scenery here is very different from New Zealand or Vermont but the people are much the same. They are very hard working and blue collar,” Purdy said. “They support their neighbors.”
Purdy became a leader of the defense at Norwich. His senior season in 2004, he led the Cadets in tackles with 65 and in sacks with eight, playing defensive end.
Today, Purdy enjoys his work at Offutt Air Force Base.
“I have gotten into more of a leadership role. We make sure the flights get off the ground on time,” he said.
He also helps facilitate any changes in flight plans.
He downplays his own combat experience.
“I have flown to support troops on the ground. But it is a lot different being 30,000 feet than being on the ground in a fire fight,” Purdy said.
Tuesday, about 1,400 miles from Offutt Air Force Base, on the Norwich University campus, there was an observance of Veterans Day. Since the public is not allowed on campus due to COVID, the event was live streamed.
Purdy said the military is viewed so much differently today than it was during the unpopular Vietnam War when protests were a daily occurrence throughout the country.
“Now, there is a lot of support for the military. If I go somewhere in my flight suit, someone will always thank me for my service. It is almost embarrassing, but the support is great.”
That goes double on Nov. 11 when we take the time to reflect.