Concert for Valor: Massive show shines spotlight on veterans' issues
By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 12, 2014
WASHINGTON — Thousands of troops and veterans gathered in the capital Tuesday night for a mega-concert in honor of Veterans Day, with servicemembers and performers sharing the same message: The spirit of the Concert for Valor must endure long after the music fades away.
A roar swept across The National Mall as acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, Eminem and Metallica took to the stage for hundreds of thousands of revelers, with troops and veterans up front in a special section close to the stage.
The concert was organized by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who recently co-wrote a book “For Love of Country,” which highlights the economic benefits returning veterans can bring to the country. It comes as hundreds of thousands of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan transition to civilian life and a national health care scandal has engulfed the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Army 2nd Lt. Maggie Smith, who attended with her husband and daughter, hopes it's the beginning of a better understanding that veterans are not charity cases — they are ready to step into leadership positions in civilian life.
"We're kind of trying to change the narrative about veterans," she said.
The music was interspersed with personal stories from troops, including Army Lt. Col. Kellie McCoy, who served three tours in Iraq, earning a Bronze Star for valor for her actions during an ambush in Fallujah.
“I hope that the lessons people hear today and stories they hear resonate long after Veterans Day passes,” McCoy said. “Every single soldier has a story that’s very much like mine, and I would ask every American to take personal interest in getting to know the veterans in their community.”
Having a large civilian audience for the event allows the public, which has limited interaction with the all-volunteer military, to gain some understanding, said Bill Rausch, political director for the veterans advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
“For those that are here, they can see firsthand that we’re not broken and we’re just like them,” he said.
Comedian John Oliver, whose wife is an Iraq veteran, said with so few Americans serving, it’s easy to be disconnected from the military.
“There’s nothing easier than saying thank you to a vet in an airport,” he said. “It just can’t stop there.”
Of course, the troops in attendance also just wanted to see some great live music.
Air Force Master Sgt. Chad Cornelius was one of a handful of troops who won a lottery to be on stage to head bang with Metallica. It’s a nice swan song to his career — he’s retiring in three days.
“It’s going to be awesome and it’s a dream come true because I am such a big Metallica fan,” he said.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Rich Viñas, 35, gave up his usual Veterans Day barbecue to attend the show with his wife and three children. He was looking forward to The Boss — Springsteen — while his oldest daughter was excited about Rihanna.
“It’s something different and something for the whole family to enjoy,” he said.
Getting to be close to the stage was a thrill for Air Force Lt. Col. Jerime Reid.
“To be up front, up close and personal is an honor for us,” he said. “More important is just the outpouring of support for veterans on a day like this — my dad’s a Vietnam veteran, and he didn’t experience anything like this when he came back from Vietnam.”
The Stars and Stripes' Meredith Tibbetts (@mjtibbs) contributed to this report.