Cohen's Traveling Troupe Tours Europe
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
MUNICH, Germany, Dec. 18, 2000 Cowboys, entertainers, sports stars, old soldiers, Congress members and an astronaut are touring European troop bases through Dec. 19 with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
"We're an unlikely crew," said Medal of Honor recipient Sammy L. Davis, "but we've kind of fit together like a gear. Everybody's just fallen together to show our respect and give our love to the troops that serve us today."
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his wife, Janet L. Cohen, welcome Sammy Davis, Medal of Honor recipient, to the secretary's Holiday Tour 2000 show at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The Dec. 17 show attracted 2,000 service members and family. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jocelyn M. Broussard, USAF.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"That's good," the Vietnam veteran solemnly concluded. "That's good."
Several thousand service and family members seemed to agree that Cohen's fourth and final holiday tour, co-sponsored by the USO, was a good thing. This year, the secretary, his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, and celebrity guests visited troops in Italy, Germany, Kosovo and Bosnia.
About 1,500 sailors and Marines greeted Cohen's traveling troupe Dec. 16 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Mediterranean Sea. The next day, nearly 2,000 service and family members at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, waved American flags small and large when the celebrities and entertainers took to the stage.
At each stop, the secretary opened the show, introducing Congress members and military celebrities.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Ohio Rep. David L. Hobson and California Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon carried regards from the folks back home. Davis, fellow Medal of Honor recipient Al Rascon, and former astronaut and senator John Glenn then saluted the troops.
Speaking aboard the Truman, Rascon and Davis paid tribute to past and present comrades in arms.
Indicating the distinctive blue ribbon and medal around his neck, Rascon said: "All I can say is God bless every one of you for being here. I carry this, not for myself, but for every one of you. That's all I have to say."
Davis, too, spoke of the nation's highest award for heroism. "There were 42 young artillerymen and 1,500 NVA (North Vietnamese army)," he said. "The next morning, there were 12 young artillerymen left standing. It was the other 11 that put me in for this medal I have around my neck."
The Vietnam veteran then explained why he accepted the Cohen's invitation to join the holiday tour.
"When I left home to come here, a reporter at the airport asked, 'What would make you leave your family at Christmas?' She was a little girl; I think she was probably still in college. I said, 'Well, honey, there's only one thing that could get me away from my children and my wife and that's the love and respect that I have for all of those who serve our country so well today."
At Ramstein, Davis pulled out a harmonica to play a moving tribute to a fallen friend.
"During my tour of duty in Vietnam, my mama sent me a harmonica," he said. "Since we were artillery, the enemy always knew where we were anyway. I would sit out on guard and play the harmonica. My sergeant would come walking by - - Sgt. Johnston Dunlop -- and he asked me to learn how to play 'Shenandoah.' So every time he'd come walking by, he'd say, 'Play it again, Sam.'
"Today, when I play for my sergeant," Davis said, then paused, before continuing with a quavering voice, "I have to go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. He's on panel 50 East. Today I'm going to play for you all."
As the poignant tune echoed throughout the base hangar, the audience sat silent. Upon the harmonica's last note, the crowd stood and cheered.
Next up came Glenn, a World War II and Korean War Marine fighter pilot and first American to orbit the earth, highlighted the sacrifice required of military families.
"None are asked to give more than you who are out there on the cutting edge," he said. "You are out there on the tip of the spear for our country, representing us all over the world, showing our presence.
"I've been in some of these positions myself in years past. I had 23 years in the Marine Corps and there were several times when I was overseas over the holiday period and I know it's not much fun. You are owed a debt of gratitude by our country and you have our gratitude for the job you're doing."
MTV announcer Ananda Lewis then introduced the show's entertainers and sports stars. Singers Carole King and Jon Carroll rocked the house. Ruth Pointer-Sayles soothed the soul. Shane Minor crooned a country hit and a Christmas carol. Songwriter Jewel charmed entertainers and audience alike.
"I never thought I'd have to follow Mr. Glenn," Jewel timidly confessed aboard the Truman. "It's a little nerve wracking, really."
Ty Murray, a world champion rodeo star who accompanied Jewel on the tour, was well known among the military's cowboy crowd. "Seeing you guys makes me feel safe," he said. "You guys are our heroes."
Comedian Al Franken, Saturday Night Live alumnus and author of "Denial Ain't Just a River in Egypt," walked on stage carrying a large yellow sack. "I'm returning your rejected absentee ballots," he told sailors and Marines aboard the Truman. "Seaman Tom Connelin, you signed on the wrong line. Petty Officer Alvin Garrett, your witness left off his Zip code. Seaman Apprentice Raphael Martinez Jr., you actually did nothing wrong."
He changed the names with every show and never hinted whether they were real. At each stop, though, Franken used at least one real name -- that of the local commander. In jest, aboard the Truman, Franken said Capt. David Logsdon's ballot "was just all screwed up." At Ramstein, Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark A. Volcheff got the same treatment.
Chicago Cubs baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, football Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Mike Singletary, and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, veterans of 42 USO shows, also took to the stage.
Banks, 'Mr. Cub,' spoke about teamwork. "In my life," he said, "I played baseball on a team. I also was in the U.S. Army -- that's another team. You all are playing on the finest team in the world."
"This is my second year with you," Bradshaw said. "I wouldn't miss this. This is the greatest honor for me. I wish we could bottle you up and take you home. You keep us the most powerful country in the world."
Singletary declared military men and women and their families America's heroes.
"You represent everything our country is all about --the loyalty, discipline, integrity and character and the whole nine yards in one," he said. "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart because you're here and it is your choice to be here."
Americans sometimes take freedom for granted, Singletary noted. "Sometimes I think we don't understand what it means. We don't understand that because you're over here, protecting the boundaries and extending them, you allow us to do the things we do in our country. You allow us to have this freedom."
Movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose films include "Top Gun" and "Armageddon," previewed his new film "Pearl Harbor," due for release May 31.
"If any of you have seen my movies, you know that I'm a big fan of the military. What I look for when I want to make a movie is courage and the emotion of triumph and heroes. You embody that. You're our heroes. I want to thank you for keeping our country strong and making America the greatest country in the world."