House Of Blues Concerts Wrap Up Conference
Supporting U.S. Troops
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 12, 2004 -- The
Coalition to Salute America's Heroes First Annual Road to
Recovery Tribute and Conference ended with a bang at the House
of Blues here on Dec. 11. Roughly 130 veterans and their
families were treated to two concerts by individuals known for
their strong support of U.S. troops.
Singer Chely Wright got the night started at the House of
Blues. The Dec. 11 event was the unofficial end to the
Coalition to Salute America's Heroes: 1st Annual Road to
Recovery Tribute and Conference in Orlando, Fla. Wright's
single "Bumper of My SUV" has been made popular by
servicemembers overseas. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);
high- resolution image available.
The main event was a lively concert of cover songs of varying
genres performed by actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.
Sinise said he's been supporting the troops for years. His
first trip to visit troops in Iraq came in June of 2003 with the
United Services Organization.
Sinise's respect for American servicemembers inspired his
band's name. Sinise portrayed an Army officer, "Lt. Dan," in the
1994 hit movie "Forrest Gump." The character struggles to deal
with losing both legs in Vietnam.
Most of the Lt. Dan Band's performances are for
servicemembers, who "always call me Lt. Dan. They just can't
help it," Sinise said.
"I think the story of Lt. Dan is a wonderful story because he
overcomes his disability and triumphs and succeeds beyond
anybody's wildest dreams," he said.
During the band's performance, veterans and family members
sporadically darted on stage to have their picture taken with
Sinise while he played. They were also occasionally invited
onstage to dance and sing with band members.
Army Pfc. Samuel Chacon Jr. had a fantastic time listening to
the band and dancing with singer Mari Anne Jayme.
"I love that (Sinise) took his own personal time to come here
(for the troops)," Chacon said. "This is what we fight for, to
know that people support us."
The outpouring of support and goodwill from both the
coalition and the entertainers overwhelmed Army Staff Sgt. Mike
Sutherland, a soldier for 18 years.
"It's phenomenal," he said about the evening.
Sutherland, a member of the 25th Field Artillery Battalion in
Fort Sill, Okla., was injured by an improvised explosive device
outside of Baghdad, Iraq. He still suffers from crushed nerves
in his lower back, partial paralysis on his left side, and
short-term memory loss.
"Out of all the physical therapy I've been through, ... of
all the pain management I've been through, ... of all the
(psychological help), ... I now feel better than I have in the
last 12 months," he said.
Country singer Chely Wright had gotten the night started. She
sang and joked with the troops as they finished dinner. She
closed her set with her song "The Bumper Of My S.U.V." This song
has been wildly popular with U.S. troops overseas.
Wright's grandfather was a soldier in World War II; her dad
was a sailor in Vietnam; and her brother is currently a Marine
gunnery sergeant. The song was inspired by a Marine Corps bumper
One day in traffic, "a lady flipped me the bird because of my
Marine Corps sticker," she said. When they stopped at a red
light, the woman told Wright "how wrong my war was."
When Wright saw the stickers the woman's car was sporting --
a religious school and anti-Bush stickers -- she realized the
woman took for granted the freedom that gave her the right to
display the stickers.
Wright said she has been supporting troops since she was a
kid. "One Wednesday a month I would take my keyboard and go the
(Veterans Administration) hospital and play for the troops," she
said. Her family "said, 'OK, you want to be famous? If you ever
do you get your butt over there and you support your troops.'"
Both Sinise and Wright signed autographs after each concert.
The lines were long, but the troops found it worth their wait.
"It hits home," Army Reserve Sgt. Robert Williamson, with the
706th Transport Company from Mansfield, Ohio, said of Wright's
The Bumper OF My S.U.V.
The night was topped off by a chorus of "Happy Birthday to
You" sung to one of the military wives there. The troops also
presented shirts, signed by all the veterans that turned out, to
Roger Chapin and Doug Plank, co-founders of the Coalition to
Support America's Veterans, and Roger's wife, Elizabeth.
||Army Pfc. Samuel Chacon Jr. dances with Lt. Dan Band
singer Mary Anne Jayme. The band headlined the concert at
the House of Blues event that unofficially ended the
Coalition to Salute America's Heroes 1st Annual Road to
Recovery Tribute and Conference here Dec. 11. Photo by
Samantha L. Quigley
||High resolution photo
||Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band headlined the concert
that was part of the unofficial end to the Coalition to
Salute America's Heroes: 1st Annual Road to Recovery Tribute
and Conference in Orlando, Fla. The veterans and their
families thoroughly enjoyed dancing on stage with Sinise and
the band members. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
||High resolution photo