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Country Music's Grand Ole Opry Kicks Off Summer Salute

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2006 – Some of the country music stars that write songs honoring the nation's troops and travel the world to bring them a taste of home performed at the Grand Ole Opry this Memorial Day weekend.

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Country music singer, songwriter and lead guitarist Rockie Lynne responds to the audience at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., May 27 during an All-American Salute Signature Show featuring tributes to America's men and women in uniform. The audience, which included many military veterans, waved flags and gave Lynne a standing ovation after he sang "Red, White & Blue," a song on his new album. Lynne wrote the song for the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights the public's efforts to show their support for servicemembers. Photo by Chris Hollo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry

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The historic home of country music kicked off a summer salute to members of the military May 26 and yesterday that will run through Labor Day weekend. The All-American Salute Signature Shows featured tributes to the troops on stage and military performances and displays in the Opry Plaza.

Country legends Little Jimmy Dickens, Porter Wagoner and Ricky Skaggs introduced the likes of bluegrass star Rhonda Vincent and country star Darryl Worley, whose hit "Have You Forgotten" serves as a reminder to support those fighting the war against terrorism.

A packed house of country music lovers and military veterans heard Rockie Lynne, a relative newcomer on the Opry scene, sing "Red, White and Blue," a patriotic ballad he wrote specifically for the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program, which highlights the public's efforts to support the troops.

Lynne's lyrics call members of the armed forces "modern-day Minutemen and women, like heroes from the past" who reflect the values America holds dear. He points out that America's military is a cross section of the nation, representing every corner of the country, every race, every religion, and every socioeconomic status.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, Lynne sings, all are "red, white and blue," ready to respond to whatever mission their country calls upon them to carry out. The song received a standing ovation from the flag-waving Opry audience.

"That standing ovation was not for me or for some song I wrote, but for the military men and women it portrays," Lynne said during an interview backstage.

Lynne, who served for three years with the Army infantry, went on to talk about wounded servicemembers he's met during visits to the Pentagon.

"I know how undeniable their will is and their sense of patriotism and their camaraderie with their unit," Lynne said. "You hear them say time and time again, 'I wish I could go back with my guys.' But I never cease to be absolutely floored by their uplifting attitude -- by the spirit of what I can only describe as 'Americanism,' that just comes rising up out of those young men and women."

Lynne said he'll never forget the positive outlook of one young man he met at the Pentagon. Sitting in a wheelchair wearing a prosthetic limb from the knee down, the young veteran had a huge smile. He told the country singer, "It's not as bad as it looks," and said his new goal is to join the Army's Golden Knights parachute team.

"No matter what you're going through in your life, you realize that nothing that we have to struggle with is hard," Lynne said. "What they deal with is hard on a daily, minute-by-minute basis."

People may shy away from talking to these young people, Lynne said, but "sticking our head in the sand" is not the right thing to do. "We have to grasp the reality that these young men and women are paying, some with their lives, some with their limbs, and some with their sense of cognizance for the rest of their lives."

One servicemember, who turned his head to show Lynne the large circular scar on his shaved head, told him, "At least I can walk and talk."

"We can never, ever forget the debt we owe these men and women," Lynne concluded. "They deserve our care."

Chely Wright sang her hit "Bumper of My SUV," about the need for Americans to continue supporting the men and women fighting the war on terror. The lyrics describe a U.S. Marine Corps bumper sticker on Wright's vehicle and another motorist's response to it with an obscene gesture.

Wright wrote the song as a tribute to her brother, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Wright, who recently returned from Iraq. Half of the proceeds of the recording go to "Stars for Stripes," a nonprofit organization that sponsors celebrity tours to troops in the Middle East and other places.

Wright often travels with Stars for Stripes and the United Service Organizations. "I'm at the point where anyone who wants me to play for the troops abroad or domestically, if we can pull it off, I go," she said during an interview backstage. Wright's reasons for volunteering her talents to entertain the troops go back a long way.

Her grandfather, she recalled, who was in the Army during World War II and landed on the beaches of Normandy, was haunted by memories. "He was a very, quiet man -- very charismatic. When he talked, we would listen," Wright said.

When she was 9, Wright's grandfather pulled off the Grand Ole Opry cap covering his bald head one day and said, "So, I hear you said you're going to be a country music star? Tell you what, you get your keyboard and you get your little butt up to the VA hospital in Kansas City."

"I thought that sounded like fun so I said I'd do it," Wright said.

Once a month, Wright would play and sing for the veterans. "I saw amputations. I saw men trapped in their heads who had some issues. That's where I learned to play for them and then sit and talk to them and, more importantly, to listen to them. The older I've gotten, the more what my grandfather told me to do has unfolded as a gift to me," she said.

Wright said she was the first U.S. musical celebrity to play for the American troops in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. She said it was humbling, and it was scary wearing helmets and flak vests.

"There is absolutely no way to articulate what it was like to be at (a forward operating base) where the troops are filthy and haven't had a bath for God knows how long because they've been so busy working. When you get up there and you get on a cruddy little sound system, and you get a chance to sing to them and talk to them, they cry."

Wright said she ran into the same servicemember on three continents and each time he showed her pictures of his wife and kids. The circle was complete, when the troop came to her show back home and introduced her to his wife and kids.

Seeing firsthand how hard the troops work and the conditions they live in creates "a perfect hybrid of appreciation, humility and humanity," Wright said. "It's life changing, and that's why I continue to go back -- not just for the troops. It makes my life seem valuable in ways that I couldn't otherwise achieve."

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Related Sites:
America Supports You
Grand Ole Opry Photo Essay

Click photo for screen-resolution imageCountry music star Chely Wright, who travels the globe to entertain America's troops, sings her song "Bumper of My SUV" at the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, Tenn., May 27, during an All-American Salute Signature Show featuring tributes to America's men and women in uniform. Wright wrote the song as a tribute to her brother, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Wright. Photo by Chris Hollo courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCountry music singer songwriter Rockie Lynne talks with wounded servicemembers at the Pentagon May 12, 2006. Lynne's new album features "Red, White and Blue," a song he wrote for the "America Supports You" program which highlights public efforts to support the troops. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn  
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