The U.S. Old Army Guard Fife and Drum Corps perform during the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Invictus Games. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio
Invictus Games open to night of pageantry on global level
While athletes had been competing in preliminary events, the second Invictus Games opened Sunday night to a host of big-name stars, musical guests and political superstars at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
Great Britain’s Prince Harry, in cooperation with U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and former U.S. President George W. Bush, welcomed more than 500 military veterans and their families to the sporting event that was originally conceived by the prince to encourage and inspire injured veterans to take up sports.
"When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with the missing limbs, let's also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn't leave his house," Prince Harry told the crowd. "Let's cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress."
The Invictus Games opening ceremony welcomed more than 500 athletes from 14 countries. Photo Christopher DiVirgilio
The two-hour ceremony opened with some traditional Invictus Games fanfare with the help of the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, followed by the national anthem performed by the U.S. Army Concert Band. The U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 34 buzzed the stadium with an epic flyover that kept the crowd on their feet and hungry for more.
The U.S. Old Army Guard Fife and Drum Corps wowed the crowd with their precision close order drill, handmade rope-tensioned drums and single-valve bugles as the excitement built to the parade of nations. Fourteen countries filed out through a smoke-filled arch as spotlights danced over the stadium.
For many, this was the first time they had come together as comrades since serving on the field of battle.
The ceremony continued in similar fashion with acts by musical pop stars Laura Wright and James Blunt, a special guest appearance by Morgan Freeman and a 24-man precision performance by the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Team.
Invictus did slow the pace, however, to pay respects and share the stories of some of the men and women without whom the event would not be possible: the veterans. Freeman was tasked with that honor, and in true form spoke about and introduced U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr., British Royal Marine J.J. Chalmers and British Marine Louis Nethercott, who all shared stories of how they were injured and the emotional and physical challenges they faced on their road to recovery.
While all telling in their own right, Del Toro’s horrific tale hit home to so many in the audience. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more emotional, Bush made his way up on stage to embrace the wounded warrior.
The ceremony closed with the Invictus Anthem performed by a choir from the Center for American Military Music Opportunity in a grand finale of fireworks, spotlights and cheers.
Obama thanked veterans for their service.
"I'm here and honor all of you: our extraordinary service members, our veterans, and of course our military families. You all are amazing. Truly amazing," she said.
To see photos from the opening ceremony and other events, visit the PN Online photo gallery.
Reuters News Service and Gavino Garay contributed to this report.