MOUNT VERNON — Moments before the start of his headline show at the Dan Emmett Music and Arts Festival, country music artist Lee Greenwood took a moment to meet and greet seven local veterans.
Greenwood is the man behind the 1984 patriotic anthem “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which surged in popularity during the Gulf War and following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Greenwood told the News he believes that when it comes to letting veterans know that they are appreciated, there’s no time like the present.
“The World War II veterans, the Vietnam veterans, the Korean veterans are dying at a rate that’s unbelievable. My father served in World War II as well,” said Greenwood. “You’ve got to take time for the veterans. You always make sure they know that they’ve been honored and honored for their service.”
Kevin Henthorn, director of the Knox County Veteran’s Office, said that veterans who served during a range of eras were contacted about the opportunity to meet Greenwood. The local chapter of Honor Flight also participated in setting up the meet and greet. Those selected included combat veterans, disabled veterans, Purple Heart medal and bronze star medal recipients.
George Oliver, who served in the Army from 1962-1965, said when he was given the chance to meet Greenwood, he jumped on it.
“There isn’t too many people in the world of entertainment that I have any respect for. Lee Greenwood is one of those that I do have respect for,” said Oliver. “You don’t find too many entertainers, except for Gary Sinise, who give a hoot about vets.”
“It’s a great honor to meet him,” said Fred Dailey, a Vietnam army veteran. “He’s a patriot. His song is kind of the theme song for patriots and we’re just really proud to have him here in Mount Vernon.”
Air Force veteran Jeff Lear said “God Bless the U.S.A” was especially meaningful for him during the Gulf War.
“That was like the song of the century for us,” said Lear, who served from 1989 to 1998 in communication and navigation systems.
Decades later, he believes the country could use a bit more of that patriotism.
“It’s not a matter of arrogance,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being proud of our country. We were, have been and still are a great nation.”
While just seven servicemen participated in the meet and greet, a bigger group of veterans were offered the chance to sit in a special section near the front of the stage during Greenwood’s performance.
Henthorn stated that continuing to publicly recognize veterans is important because it humanizes those who sacrificed for their country.
“Not all of them got a good welcome home. So public recognition and a public thank you is important,” said Henthorn. “It also allows citizens to put a face with their freedom…A chance to look them in the eyes.”
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