When Richard Silva was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, with his Marine unit, his wife Carmen made sure he stayed connected to his favorite sport.
“My wife would send me hockey clippings so I could follow my Sharks,” said Silva, a recreational goaltender. “I was a faithful Sharks fan, originally from San Jose. So I had to go for the home team even though I live in San Diego. It helped out a lot.”
Hockey was his hobby, but it also became a source of strength that served him well during his nine years in the military. And after he was badly wounded in 2004, hockey became a lifeline.
Silva, awarded the Purple Heart and nominated for a Bronze Star when he medically retired in 2008, is one of four service members awarded trips to San Jose for this weekend’s NHL All-Star festivities. The trip was made possible through the NHL Players’ Assn. and the United Heroes League, which helps children of military families participate in sports by providing equipment, coaching and other experiences. He got the good news about he trip in a phone call from Sharks defenseman Brent Burns.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Silva said the other day while he and his son RJ attended the league’s media day activities. “Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine this day would come.”
Silva, who lives in Chula Vista, said hockey’s work ethic and selflessness gave him a solid foundation for his Marine service.
“The passion for wanting to play and learn and have the camaraderie of teamwork, that later translated when I joined the military,” he said. “Being part of a team has helped out in terms of getting acquainted with others I’m not familiar with from different walks of life, and different skills. Hockey translated over to the military and made it a little easier. And I served my country as proud as I could.”
Silva suffered multiple injuries in Iraq, including bullet wounds and a broken neck. His neck is fused. He has a prosthetic right leg, as well as “titanium rods for bones and pins and needles here and there, but thankful to be alive,” he said.
RJ is 11 and plays goal for the San Diego Oilers peewee team at the San Diego Ice Arena, where Silva used to play. RJ carries the middle name Perez in honor of Marine Geoffrey Perez, who made a pact with Silva that if one of them did not survive their duty in Iraq, the other would someday give his child the fallen comrade’s name. Guiding RJ and occasionally helping other goalies make it easier for Silva to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.