“What great gifts the song “Bumper Of My SUV ” continues to give. This trip was an emotional and career zenith for me. I shall never forget it. Simply put…..the circle was completed.” – Chely Wright (Parents of the soldier killed in Iraq, Josh Henry, whom the video “Bumper” was dedicated, were able to attend the Welcome Home Celebration thanks to the proceeds “Bumper” raised. One half of the sales from the single were donated to SFS).
May 4th and 5th – Days One and Two Today “we” (Chely Wright and band) depart for Schweinfurt, Germany. She will be performing at a Welcome Home Celebration for troops that spent the past year in Iraq. This is a very SPECIAL trip for us. The troops from one of the camps that I visited twice last year – Camp Summerall – are at this base in Germany. I specifically requested that I be allowed to bring entertainment to these men and then prayed real hard that Chely’s schedule would allow her to be that “entertainment”. This is the camp where she performed last September and the next day, we learned that one of the young soldier’s (Josh Henry) we had met the night before was killed in action. It’s also the soldier that her video “Bumper of My SUV” is dedicated to. She and I have stayed in touch with his parents and when I learned that we would be performing in Schweinfurt, I asked permission from USAREUR to allow Stars for Stripes to cover the expenses of his parents and bring them with us. USAREUR agreed. It was especially hard for me to call his mom and make this offer. I did not know if she would be offended or would welcome this opportunity. I think I totally botched my “presentation” on why we wanted them to go with us and I left her with, “please think about this and call me in a couple of weeks when you get back from vacation”. We hung up and 10 minutes later, my phone rang. She said her husband told her to call me back and tell me they were definitely going. No problem checking in at Nashville airport and flying to Atlanta. They have these little “local” bands that perform in the area right outside where you go through security. As I was getting our group checked in, I heard a REALLY FAMILIAR voice. Chely was up on stage, singing “Crazy Arms” with the band. When we landed in Atlanta, I had arranged to have Josh’s parents meet us at the departure gate. Chely was definitely nervous and Josh’s Mom had expressed the same apprehension. But, it was wonderful once we finally met them. We can see “Josh” in both parents (Perri and Larry). His mom had brought Chely and I gifts – beautiful ceramic/clay “angels”. Everyone knows I could use a guardian angel watching over me! I am hoping that this trip will help with the healing process for them. I wanted them to meet the soldiers who spent the last year of their life with their son. Commander Kyle treated Josh as though he were his own son and I want the Henry’s to see that in him. As a mother myself, I think this would be important to me. His parents have also been in touch with a couple of the soldiers who were Josh’s best friends and I hope that seeing will be a blessing to them also. His mom had planned to get a tattoo with Josh when he returned from Iraq. Now she has made plans to get a tattoo at the same shop where Josh got one of his during his two year deployment in Germany. Had an “uneventful” flight on Delta Airlines. There were lots of empty seats in Business Class and I asked if the Henry’s could move up and sit with us. But the flight attendants wouldn’t allow it. I could NOT sleep. Just couldn’t shut my brain down. Miserable. Landed early in Frankfurt and had to call our bus driver to let him know we were waiting. It was about a 2 ½ hour drive from Frankfurt to Schweinfurt and I chatted with our bus driver who is a long-time friend during the ride over. Nice, beautiful hotel and once we all got our email working, we were happy. But, it is “analog”….just dial up through the phone system. Very slow! I walked over and had lunch in town with the musicians. Beautiful little town but all the shops were closed because today is a bank holiday. Came back to the hotel after a really nice “German” lunch, showered, then worked on email until time to go to sound check. Show will again be held in a large “fest tent”. Commander Kyle from Camp Summerall and his “wingman” Steve met us at the venue. Still SO hard to get used to seeing him in civilian clothes. I’m wearing the Army Ranger jacket that I got from a soldier and he’s in civilian clothes – quite a switch off. Kyle rode back to the hotel with me to pick up Chely for sound check and while we were having a cup of coffee, the Henry’s came in. It was the first time he had met him and it was a very emotional moment for everyone. I’m glad he met them today, though, instead of tomorrow morning at the ceremonies. The Henry’s had a wonderful day today, visiting the base and meeting the soldiers who served with their son. I am so happy, proud, and honored that we were able to bring them over with us. Thanks to Chely Wright and sales from the “Bumper of my SUV”! After sound check, I went out to dinner to a “German Mexican” restaurant with Kyle and Steve. The food was actually better than the “Mexican” we get in Nashville! Now, I’m back in the hotel working again! But, today was such a wonderful, special day. It’s times like these that I know I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone else on earth! Jude
DAY THREE – MAY 6TH Yesterday, when we went over for sound check, this young soldier walked into the backstage area and saw me. His eyes got so big and he started stammering that he just couldn’t believe it and what an honor it was to meet me and was going on and on. I stopped him mid-sentence and asked him who he thought I was. He said, “you’re Ms. Wright, of course”. I then asked him how much I owed him for saying such a flattering thing to an old woman who can’t come close to competing with Chely’s beauty! It was raining when I got up to jog so I had to go to the gymnasium in the hotel. Boy, is that FALSE ADVERTISING. There is a little elliptical trainer, a small stationary bike and one of those one piece weight machines that is only halfway functional plus a couple of exercise balls. There were two other guys in there trying to work out, so it was a challenge to get on any of the machines….but better than nothing. Chely’s road manager said she went down there last night. There’s a shower room right before you walk into the exercise room. Evidently, there was a man in the shower room, butt naked, and the door was wide open. Gave her a free shot. J Today was the Opening Ceremonies at the base. Several of us went over with the Henry’s to watch the event. It was still cold and raining but a very moving event. All the soldiers had to stand out on the soccer field in the rain during the entire 2 hour ceremony. Every time I wanted to whine about my frozen hands and feet, I thought about what they must be going through and kept my mouth shut! After the ceremony, we went to the show site for the tapping of the keg. There were 3 wounded soldiers who had flown in for the event. One of them was a soldier that was at Walter Reed when Chely and I visited there last September. We tried to see him, but he was having serious complications that day. We went back by his room three times, but were never able to see him and were very worried that he would even survive. We left some “goodies” for him and told the nurses to be sure and tell him how hard we had tried to visit him. He’s doing great and has a new little boy – 6 months old. So wonderful to see this. I told him it wasn’t that often that a man refused to allow me in his bedroom! After that, we went to Commander Kyle’s conference room for the REALLY hard part. All the soldiers from Josh’s Company were gathered in the room and Kyle presented the Henry’s with a bronze star for Josh. Then, all the soldiers walked around the room and hugged the Henry’s and told them some memories of Josh. These are the guys who spent the last year of Josh’s life with him. I can tell you that every single soldier was crying. After all the times I’ve visited Walter Reed and Bethesda and seen men and women with legs, arms, eyes, noses, ears, — you name it — blown off, I’ve never once seen a soldier cry. I hope I never do again. I think of how hard this was for me to witness and my heart goes out to the Henrys. I still pray that bringing them was the right thing to do. One soldier that was Josh’s best friend was so pathetic. He began sobbing uncontrollably as soon as the ceremony began. He’s having such a hard time with this loss. It was amazing to see Josh’s mother become the comforter rather than the person being comforted. Came back to the hotel to work until time to go back for the show. Josh’s mom got her tattoos! Just tiny ones in black ink down her back. She got the Chinese symbols for Wisdom, courage, and I think Strength. Can’t remember because there was too much happening today! She went to the same tattoo parlor where Josh got his and the girls in there had photos of Josh hanging on the wall. They remembered him well and told her stories about when he got the tattoos. They also told them that Josh’s buddy had emailed them when the accident happened and that they had closed their shop and went to church to light a candle for him. I’ve been sitting her staring at the computer screen for almost an hour trying to write what happened tonight. I don’t think it’s possible to ever adequately portray in writing what occurred. We all rode over on the bus together and Chely did an interview with AFN. She is so great with the camera and you can tell that she speaks from her heart. The fest tent was packed…probably around 5,000 people I was told. While she was on stage, one by one, the soldiers who were the closest to Josh came and found me and every one of them cried in my arms. They were all thanking me for bringing Josh’s parents over. I tried to tell them that this was such a small thing compared to the sacrifices they have made. They are all such fine young men and I can’t imagine how their lives have been changed at such a young age by the loss of one of their “brothers” and the circumstance under which they lost him. I know that my children will always be my greatest accomplishment in life and the Henry’s have to be so proud of their son. They knew how special he was in their little home town but don’t think they realized what an impact he had on the lives of the people around him in Germany and in Iraq. This was a good thing to bring them over here. Chely brought them up on stage and introduced them and the tears started again. Then she brought me up and presented a check to Stars for Stripes from the sales of “Bumper of my SUV”. Can you say NO makeup left by that time after spending the day in tears? I went backstage after the presentation and a young soldier who was another of Josh’s buddies came over to talk to me. He said that he was at the presentation of the Bronze Medal and that until Chely went on stage tonight, he and all the other soldiers at today’s presentation thought I was Chely at the event today. What a fabulous compliment. I’ll have to tell Chely how well I’ve filled in for her. When we went to Japan several years ago, the maids at the hotel kept asking me if I was her mother. I’ve definitely come a long way, baby! J It’s almost 3 am and I have to get some sleep. We drive to Frankfurt tomorrow and fly home on Sunday. It rained all day today and when I got up and saw the rain, I couldn’t help but think about what my wonderful promoter in Japan told me about the rain. In October of 2001, we held our 12th Annual Country Gold Festival in Japan. For the first time in the history of the event, it poured rain on show day. The promoter went on stage and told the 25,000 people standing under umbrellas in the audience that every year he talks to God and God never lets it rain on the day of the festival. He said that he does not think it was rain that day but that it was tears from the victims of 9/11 pouring down on us. I wonder if today was not the same. That Josh’s tears were pouring down on us as he watched over us. God brings special people into our lives for a reason. Sometimes we don’t understand the purpose, but ultimately it is revealed to us and our lives are forever changed. Colonel Kyle, the “boys” at Camp Summerall, Iraq, and Josh, Perri, and Larry Henry will forever be intertwined in my heart and life. Jude
DAY 4 AND 5 – MAY 7 AND 8: FINALLY, the rain stopped enough that I could jog outside. The hotel was located right on the river, and there was a great path through the woods. Only problem I had was DOGS! No one uses a leash and they also don’t call them back when they chase you. Had to stop several times and walk to keep from getting attacked. And, no one has a “small” dog….all big man-eaters. J We checked out and left for Frankfurt at around 11 am. Chely and her guitar player had gotten up and departed at 7 am to drive to Frankfurt, then fly to Amsterdam, perform on a radio show, then train back to Frankfurt. Brutal schedule because she had, of course, stayed for hours after the show last night signing autographs. And, by the way, did I mention that her show was fantastic? Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a lot of it because of being busy elsewhere but the comments I heard afterwards were the same as I always here. The audience can tell she is “genuine”. Minnie Pearl taught us, “Love them and they will love you back”. That was her advice to all entertainers, young and old, and it certainly works for Chely. Also, Heather with USAREUR does such a wonderful job of organizing these events and John and Uwe and their staff from Public Address are always first class professionals as far as the sound and backline are concerned. Michael Payne was my POC for this show and I had met him at Kitzingen when I was there with Richard Marks. He was a real sweetheart and took excellent care of all the little details in making sure we were taken care of. I met so many wonderful people that day, many of them who had either seen Chalee and Danni perform at Camp Summerall in July or had been to Chely’s show. What a special experience it was to be able to actually welcome them back home. Kyle said that a statue is being made from various “materials” that they collected in Iraq (marble from Saddam’s palaces, etc.) and the names of all nine men that were lost from their Division would be placed on the base of this. They are going to fly the Henrys and the other family members back over in June for the dedication. I’m going to make a donation to the cause. After checking into the hotel by the airport, we took the bus to downtown Frankfurt. It was pouring rain again by that time. We quickly found a great Thai restaurant and I treated everyone to a fantastic meal. Michael Tietze, our bus driver and my dear friend, joined us. He is such a “funny” guy and entertained us throughout the meal with his anecdotes. I ordered a glass of the “Applewine”, which Frankfurt is famous for. Of course, I don’t like the taste of any alcohol, and didn’t like that one either. We passed it around and it finally landed with Michael. The guys stayed over to shop and sightsee but the weather was so miserable, I went back to the hotel with the Henrys. It had also turned really cold and I wasn’t dressed for walking around outside in the rain. Just as we left the restaurant to walk to the bus, the wind kicked up and the people who had umbrellas either lost them or had them turn inside out. We ducked into a shop – great shop by the way. The only thing that kept me from being really stupid and buying a $500 trench coat, is the fact that I knew I could have it tailor made in Korea next week for about $100! Commander Kyle drove down from Schweinfurt to have dinner with me and stayed overnight at our hotel since he had to go to Heidelburg for meetings the next day. We took a taxi from the hotel and gave the driver the name of a restaurant that Michael had recommended. The taxi driver didn’t speak a word of English and fortunately Kyle knew enough German to get is going. I called Michael on his cell phone and had him try and give directions. But Michael only knew the “general” area so the driver pulled over and asked another taxi where it was. Then he set his GPS. Let me tell you, we got the TOUR of downtown Frankfurt. We kept telling him to just forget it and drop us off at the train station but he was DETERMINED to find the place. I finally called Michael back and he said that he had called the restaurant and because it’s a small family owned event, it was closed because of the holiday weekend. So the driver dropped us off in the same area where I had eaten lunch earlier and we found a great little German restaurant. Great, except for the smoke. My allergies are killing me because EVERYWHERE allows smoking. It’s Spargel season in Germany. I remember this from tours years ago. They grow this white Asparagus that is only available around the May time period and it is delicious. But they have spargel soup, spargel with every imaginable sauce, spargel ravioli, you name it. I just had the regular spargel and when they brought out my plate, we both looked at it and then looked at each other and cracked up. It was really large stalks of asparagus and I don’t think I have to tell you what it looked like. But, it was fabulous. The table next to us was celebrating a girl’s birthday and I really enjoyed watching and listening to them as she opened her gifts. She tried to blow out her candles and they were the kind that keep relighting. Evidently, this was the first time she had been tricked like that because she kept blowing and blowing. Finally, she used her fingers and pinched the flames on each candle. We walked around the city for a few minutes after the meal because the rain had stopped and it was a beautiful night. I’ve been to Frankfurt many times but forgot what great shopping is available. ‘Course everything was closed by then but it was fun to window shop. Got back to the hotel much quicker without the “city tour” and went into the SMOKEY little bar to have a drink with Michael. Clay walked in pretty soon after we got there and he had just gotten back from Amsterdam. Evidently, they had quite a few challenges on the trip – delayed flights, wrong hotels – but said the radio show went great. We left the bar and were going to watch the Bellamy Brothers’ 25th Anniversary DVD on Kyle’s computer but Chely was standing at the front desk when we walked out. She couldn’t get on line. I gave her my wireless card and called her a few minutes later to see if she had gotten on. But something was wrong with her computer. I went to her room to try and see if I could help. Her wireless device was turned off and it would not allow us to turn it back on. Finally gave up and got her connected through the telephone line. I was having real problems with my wireless connection because it kept fading in and out. All afternoon, I would have to go out into the hallway and download my mail to my filing without opening it because it wouldn’t allow me to open anything. Then answer it and go back out into the hall and send it! Chely said she sent me an instant message but that never even popped up! We watched the Bellamys’ DVD until the battery died in his computer and he didn’t have a power cable with him. It was another very “short” night as far as sleep for me…shortest of the trip…but it was worth it to be able to spend some time with dear friends who I will not see again for a while. Got up and drank lots of coffee before we departed for the airport. Pretty sure I have two cracked ribs from a “bear hug” I got from one of the soldiers. Had a problem checking in on our flight because Delta was refusing to allow the guys to carry on their guitars. I have a letter from the American Musicians Union that states that ALL airlines must allow them to carry on their instrument. But, Delta wasn’t buying it. They told me that NONE of the airlines would allow this because it had just been determined that it was a high security risk. Someone might take the guitar strings off the guitar and use them to strangle the pilot! No lie. That’s what they told us. (This, of course, led us to another lively discussion afterwards about other “security risks” – taking your shoestrings off and using them to choke the pilot….smashing a bottle of wine and using it as a weapon….really lots of possibilities if you really think about it.) I tried to explain that we had just flown over 3 days ago and had not had a problem. Guess this new “rule” must have come into place since then. Of course, we can’t really argue because they would just have us removed from the flight as a security risk. They finally allowed us to take it to the gate and I had a feeling we would be able to talk the crew down there into letting them carry it on. They did. Flew from Frankfurt to JFK where we leave the Henrys and then on to Nashville. No problems for once getting back to Nashville on time. We had a BIG tailwind that worked in our favor. Said a tearful goodbye to the Henrys in NYC. What wonderful people they are! Jude