Danny Dietz Memorial Classic in Rosenberg benefits the Navy SEAL Foundation

Founder urges others to continue to give back to their community

By Donna Hill
For the Fort Bend Star

(Photo by Donna Hill)
Members of the Texas Rangers and U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (back, right) pose at the Danny Dietz Memorial Classic in Rosenberg with the widows of Navy SEALS killed in action. Pictured from the left are Patty Roberts (husband Neil Roberts, Afghanistan 2002), Tracy Tapper (husband David M. Tapper, Afghanistan, 2003), Patsy Dietz (husband Danny Dietz, Afghanistan 2005), Donna Lewis (husband Jason D. Lewis, Iraq, 2007), Cindy Axelson (husband Matt Axelson, Afghanistan 2005), Charlotte Ange (fiancée Adam O. Smith, Afghanistan 2010), and Kathy Howell (husband Michael E. Koch, Iraq 2008).

When Danny Quinlan heard Patsy Dietz, widow of Navy SEAL Danny Dietz, make a motivational speech about courage and valor in Virginia, he knew somehow he would find a way to honor fallen veterans here in Texas, too.

Quinlan, founder and event coordinator of the Danny Dietz Memorial Classic, held at the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds last month, was in the audience while Patsy spoke about her husband’s life in Operation Red Wings, where her husband, Navy SEAL Danny Dietz, died in Afghanistan in 2005. Dietz’s story was retold in the book and subsequent movie “Lone Survivor.”

After the speech, Quinlan approached Patsy with the idea of bringing people together with family events and activities in an effort to honor her husband and other fallen SEALS in Texas.

Quinlan is no stranger to healing. Inspired by Patsy’s talk of courage and strength, especially after his own recovery to remove a brain tumor, was life-changing. Doctors kept telling Quinlan of the things he couldn’t do anymore, particularly physical activities.

“I was tired of folks telling me what I could and couldn’t do. After attending Patsy’s speech that day, I really heard her story of bravery and sacrifice; it motivated me in a way I couldn’t explain,” he said. “I never served in the military but I wanted to give back, but wasn’t sure how.”

He found out how by creating the Danny Dietz Memorial Classic, along with Dietz’s wife and hundreds of volunteers.

He organized the three-day weekend rodeo event and fundraiser, invited the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, scheduled in professional and amateur team roping, added in food, music, family events, and a new addition – a car show.

Quinlan firmly believes in giving back to military members and first responders.

“These people gave up their lives for our freedom. I took my freedom for granted for so long. Here was a way to say thanks to the military everywhere,” he said.

He said he strives to honor what Memorial Day is all about.

“Part of what we are doing here is to bring back the meaning of Memorial Day. So many people forget that,” Quinlan said.

According to the event’s website, the Danny Dietz Memorial Classic combines two worlds of the “All American Cowboy and Teamwork” with the “All American Warrior and No Quit mentality.” One hundred percent of the proceeds go to the Navy SEAL Foundation.

Erica Molina, the event’s director, spoke of the Honorary Texan Award, presented to a surviving spouse of a Navy SEAL killed in action.

“The wives don’t know who we choose until we announce it at the Memorial Classic. Patsy helps us choose the honor. We get a letter from the governor, and the Texas Rangers are there to present the Texas flag to the surviving spouse on behalf of the State of Texas,” Molina said.

This year’s Honorary Texan recipient is Donna Lewis, surviving spouse of Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jason Dale Lewis, who was killed while conducting combat operations near Baghdad, Iraq.

Molina, no stranger to the stories shared by the wives of fallen soldiers, struggles to regain her composure as she talks of the courage from survivors whom she knows so well. She’s worked closely with the wives over the years, and they are active volunteers for the event, even though many live in Virginia Beach, Va.

“We’ve held the Dietz Memorial Classic in Katy and in College Station, but the last five years have been in Fort Bend County, at the fairgrounds,” said Molina. “We have a great group of proud volunteers who help us every year since 2009, and it has been growing ever since.”

After the presentation, U.S. Rep. Pete Olson commented, “Honoring these amazing SEALS and their families, the wives in particular, is a special day and we are here to tell them we love them and acknowledge the sacrifice they gave. We appreciate what they and their husbands have given to our country.”

To Quinlan, it’s all about the honor to “those who have fallen, and the families who are left behind.”

For more about the Navy SEAL Foundation, visit www.navysealfoundation.org.

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