The nationwide Salute to America concert series landed in The Villages, in central Florida on April 29, with a free concert for area veterans. Headlining the show was iconic rock band Jefferson Starship. The concert series is presented by national nonprofit organizations Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV) and Soldier’s Wish.
This year’s Salute to America concert series pays tribute to America’s Vietnam Veterans and their families, and is an official activity in the Department of Defense’s 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War. Florida lost 1,954 men and women during the Vietnam War, eighth highest state death rate in the nation.
The Villages marks the third stop in this year’s concert series tour. The opening program featured remarks Major General Arnie Fields (Ret.), representing the Department of Defense. Fields was Deputy Commander of Marine Corps Forces in Europe and Africa, and served for more than 35 years.
Speaking on behalf of Help Hospitalized Veterans was Clinton D. Pearman, a member of HHV’s Board of Directors. A certified brain injury specialist and the regional education coordinator for the Defense and Veterans Brian Injury Center, Pearman served more than 30 years in the Marine Corps.
Rounding out the opening program was a surprise to everyone in attendance. Kevin McDugle, Executive Director of Soldier’s Wish, brought several veterans, many from World War II, to the stage to let them know that Soldiers Wish would be sending 10 veterans from the area on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C., with all expenses paid.
During a brief intermission, HHV presented every veteran in attendance with a free Vietnam War commemorative craft kit to bring home. Starting May 13, veterans living in The Villages can participate in a new Military Veterans Arts and Crafts Group, which will meet at the Laurel Manor Regional Recreation Center from 1 to 4 p.m. The group will meet on the second and fourth Wednesday each month.
Jefferson Starship treated the crowd to classic hits like, “White Rabbit,” and “Somebody to Love,” along with many others. Jefferson Starship was at the height of its popularity during the Vietnam War and many in the audience knew their songs.
One veteran said as he was walking out, “I can’t remember the last time I felt thanked and honored for my service. I really felt welcomed home.”
Many of the veterans and family members attending the concert expressed appreciation as they left the venue, some with tears, some with smiles, but all with joy and gratitude. “I remember singing along to those songs when I was in-country,” said one Vietnam veteran. “To be here now with Jefferson Starship is awesome.”
Jefferson Starship has performed in several Salute to America concerts. Lead Singer Cathy Richardson said, “We are honored to be included in the Salute to America concert series. We were surprised when we were first approached, but being a part of Salute to America gives us the opportunity to say thank-you to our veterans as well.”
Jefferson Starship will perform at the next Salute to America concert on July 21, 2015 in Springfield, Illinois, at the national convention of Vietnam Veterans of America. They will also sing the National Anthem at the convention’s opening ceremony the next day.
On November 8, 2015 at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., HHV will close out the 2015 Salute to America concert series with an all star performance by The Grass Roots and Jefferson Starship. Tickets to Salute to America Concerts are free of charge, because HHV and its supporters believe “the price to attend has already been paid by our veterans’ sacrifices.”
Click here to learn more about HHV’s Salute to America concerts.
Check out our photo gallery of The Villages Concert Series event.