During her visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Wednesday, Cher sat down with Stars and Stripes for 15 minutes to explain why she made the trip, how she can be against the war in Iraq but for the troops, and why she’s going to Iraq — just not during summertime.
It didn’t take much prying to get the timeless singer and Oscar-winning actress to speak her mind. Below are excerpts from the interview. United Service Organizations helped coordinate Cher’s visit to Landstuhl.
You recorded the “If I Could Turn Back Time” video on the USS Missouri in that jaw-dropping outfit. Now you’ve given $130,000 to Operation Helmet. You’ve been to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Now you’re here at Landstuhl. What’s your connection to the military? Why do you do it?
Well, I’m actually not sure. I didn’t start out to do it. I told these guys a story that happened to me when I was back in the Vietnam days where I got this MIA (missing in action) bracelet. I wore it for a long time. Almost the whole time I was doing “The Sonny and Cher Show.” My guy was named Lieutenant Hayden Lockhart Jr. I just wore it. I’m not even sure my whole heart was in it. I just really started wearing it because it was kind of the thing to do. And then, I kind of got into it. …
And then I met him. He came on the show, and I got to give him back the bracelet. So since then, I started going to hospitals. There’s a VA (Veterans Affairs) hospital in California. Then I was on tour and went to Walter Reed. Then, I was totally hooked.
’Round about when was that?
A year and a half ago, something like that. I got involved in the Intrepid Fund (which will construct a training center for troops disabled during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq). I couldn’t believe they were having a hard time getting money for that. So I kind of got involved in that. And then, one of my dearest friends is a man named Lou Dobbs, who has a TV show on CNN. He and I were talking about the war all the time. Even though we had different views on it, I love him. So it would be interesting for me to get his views as opposed to arguing.
After visiting Walter Reed, then Bethesda (home to the National Naval Medical Center) and Walter Reed again — after meeting these guys and the women too — I’m just so shocked that there are still people in the country like that because a lot of the kids that I come in contact with, they’re still very — it’s not exactly that they’re selfish; they just don’t have any concept of what the kids in the military are doing and what it’s about to actually go someplace where you could possibly lose your life.
The things that I’ve seen at Walter Reed and the things that I’ve seen at Bethesda are much worse than the things I saw in the Vietnam times. There are more of them that I actually have come in contact with, and the injuries are so bad. Then I talked to Dr. (Bob) Meaders — the whole thing about the helmet fund. I just got involved. Then I went to Washington, D.C., and it just keeps going. I met somebody there. I don’t know who is he is.
(Landstuhl commander) Col. (Bryan) Gamble, maybe?
He must be a big guy because everybody was like, “Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” Yeah. I was too stupid to know, but he was like, “Cher, you’ve got to come to so and so.” I’m like, “Alright.” And here I am.
What’s been your impression of the troops here you’ve talked to?
It’s not different than the other ones I’ve talked to. They want to get better to get back to their unit. The main thing that people say is they want to get better. They want to go back. Obviously, I can’t speak for them, but it seems to me that going back to their buddies is more important than almost anything else. Going back to their group. Going back to their unit. Going back to their friends. It happened today and it happened a lot at Walter Reed.
It’s been quoted that you’re against the war in Iraq but for the troops. Explain that. Help me understand that. How can you be against the war but for the troops?
I don’t have to be for this war to support the troops because these men and women do what they think is right. They do what they’re told to do. They do it with a really good heart. They do the best they can. They don’t ask for anything.
They just do what they’re supposed to do. So, my beef is not with them at all. I want to go to Baghdad; I’m really excited about doing that. I don’t want to go in the summer, however. I want to go when it cools down a little bit.…
Is that plan in the works right now?
It’s hard. I was supposed to be brought here by the congressmen, but if I waited for them, I wouldn’t be here. I really came because (Col. Gamble) said come over there. I want to go to Baghdad and this congressman asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes. `
Will you do any performing there?
Just talking and going to meet the guys. I’d like to go outside of the Green Zone. I’d like to go to other places. …
Why would you do that?
It would be really exciting for me to go and see people who don’t expect to see anybody. Also, it seems really — when I say this it’s going to sound dumb — but it seems like the least you could do. People are there. They’re fighting. Even though I don’t believe in the war, if they’re there, they’re fighting, it seems like it would be a good place to be.
Talk about Operation Helmet and what the goal is there.
Dr. Meaders was just trying to do something for his grandson and then for his grandson’s squad. People started hearing about it. I guess other squads … were in contact with them and that’s when he formed the thing. He could no longer afford it by himself and just started getting donations.
I’m very disappointed in the amount of support that the soldiers are getting from the people back home. It’s kind of like it’s just a thing you hear on the news, and nobody does anything. Where is everybody?
Should we expect to see any more military-centric music videos with you wearing provocative outfits?
(Laughing) I think those days are over for me. It just happened that we were on that boat, and it was great. All these sailors were so funny because they all kept calling me “ma’am” as well. It was so weird. Here I am almost naked with all these young sailors, calling me “ma’am.” Actually, we ended up getting along great and laughing the whole time.
… I can’t speak for everyone, but everyone seems to be against the war but not realizing that that’s not good enough. You’ve got to do something besides just be against it. You’ve got to do some helping as well. People have got to get their [expletive] together.