A Singer, A Song and America's Armed Forces
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 16, 2003 Everyone knows Donald H. Rumsfeld is one tough hombre. Yet today, a country singer made the straight-talking, no-nonsense defense secretary wipe tears from his eyes.
Darryl Worley gave a 45-minute concert at the Pentagon for several hundred service members, civilian employees and family members this morning. The show was broadcast live to troops overseas, and an audio webcast is available. (No longer available.)
After singing a mix of down-home country songs, with an extra dollop of patriotism, Worley introduced his chart-topping hit "Have You Forgotten." He said he wrote the tune after a USO trip to Afghanistan and the Middle East in December 2002.
"I wanted to do something to pay back the soldiers for what they'd done for me and for us as a country, to bring some honor and respect to them," he explained. The song's release coincided with the coalition's war against Iraq and, for many, it carried a strong message of support for the global war on terrorism.
"Now, it's been called a pro-war song," Worley told Rumsfeld, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Pentagon crowd. "If that means that I support my president and the conflict that we just took care of over there, then I guess that's what it is if that's what it has to be. But it's a whole lot more to me. It's a pro-America song. It's a pro-military song."
As the crowd whooped and hollered, the Defense Department's senior leaders reacted as well. Myers applauded heartily, and in a rare show of emotion, a red- eyed Rumsfeld twice took off his glasses to wipe away tears.
Center stage, Worley went on to say that after he recorded the song, he thought, "What I would give if I was back in Afghanistan, or in Iraq, or wherever those guys and gals are, and I could stand up before them and play this song. They would know that what they had asked me to do when I got back home, that I was serious about it."
Speaking through the camera to the troops overseas, the country star said, "This is for y'all over there. I love you."
Then Worley sang, "I hear people say, we don't need this war, but I say there's some things worth fighting for. What about our freedom, this piece of ground? We didn't get to keep 'em, by backing down." Myers clapped and Rumsfeld shook his fists in the air.
Worley sang his refrain: "Have you forgotten how it felt that day, to see your homeland under fire and our people blown away? Have you forgotten when those towers fell, we had neighbors still inside going through a living hell? And you say we shouldn't worry about Bin Laden. Have you forgotten?"
As the crowd went wild, a smiling Rumsfeld clapped vigorously. He'd said he was a Worley fan, and it was obvious he meant it.
In an interview prior to the concert, Worley talked about his bond with the military.
"We grew up in a real patriotic family," he said "My parents and grandparents are very much the kind of people that would set you down and say this is why we live the way we live. My grandfather on my dad's side was the youngest of five boys. When he was 9 years old, all four older brothers had to go to the war.
"Growing up," he continued, "there were a lot of different family members who were military - Navy, Air Force, Army. I had one cousin who died in World War II who was a Marine. It's kind of still that way. There's quite a few first cousins and uncles in the military."
Worley noted that after he graduated from high school he wanted to join the military. "I wanted to fly jets, but I was told that I was too tall for the job," the 6-foot-6-inch Nashville star said.
Instead, he went on to college and majored in chemistry and biology, a field he worked in for a few years before deciding to pursue a music career. Ultimately, his music led him to a first-hand look at the military during combat operations in Afghanistan.
Worley went on the 2002 Holiday USO Tour, he said, and "the conflict in Afghanistan was raging still when we were there."
"For all we knew, the war in Afghanistan was over," he said, "but it's still not over."
The singer is open to a return there. "That really isn't that much for me to do," he said. "We're probably going to do it again this year, if the opportunity presents itself.
"You don't know what you're getting into until you step out there on that stage and see 2,000 troops out there with rifles slung over their shoulders," he said. "Then it hits you, and you go, 'What was I thinking? Do I really think I can entertain these guys? They've been out on the Pakistan border dodging rockets.' It's a real humbling feeling." . Worley said he and his guitar player spent a lot of time with the troops during the trip.
"We pretty much didn't sleep the whole time we were gone," the singer said.
"We stayed up and we'd be somewhere in some tent or some compound visiting with the troops pretty much all night long. I can remember lying down for maybe an hour at 3:30 in the morning, just trying to grab an hour of sleep before I had to shower and hit the road for some other place."
The music men and the troops would "just talk like normal people" he said. "They're just real guys and gals like me," he said. "They'd ask me where I was from and how long I'd been doing the music thing.
"I could tell that they were really happy and somewhat distracted from the tension maybe for a few moments just because we were there, and that's how you know you're doing what you're supposed to be doing as an entertainer," he said.
Worley noted people are still laying it on the line in Afghanistan every day. "They're on the job and it's a serious time, but you could tell that they're able to let down the guard a little bit and relax and they say those few minutes, that time, is worth a million dollars to them."
Without a doubt, he said, the trip was the most incredible experience of his life, and it's changed his life in many ways. Entertaining the troops, he added, is now his way of "sharing a little bit in the responsibility" and doing his part.
"It could never compare to what these soldiers do," he said. It's only like a grain of sand in the whole desert."
Worley said he shares the troops' "fighting spirit" and feels like he should be "in the thick of it with them. ... Just being with them and seeing that character that they have, it's like you and I have it, but we really haven't been asked to reach down deep inside and pull it out and use it. That's the thing that sets them apart."
The singer said he can't express in words how much it means to him to be an American and to live in a country full of luxuries and freedoms "knowing full well that the only reason we have those things is because these men and women lay their lives on the line for us."
"It's an honorable thing," he concluded. "It's a brave and courageous thing, and they do it for all the right reasons. And the way they look at it, it's just their job."