DoD, USO Pay Tribute to Film Industry
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Dec. 4, 2000 Military entertainers took the spotlight here in late November, turning the tables on some of the Hollywood stars who've entertained America's troops for nearly 60 years.
Members of the 82nd Airborne Chorus entertain at a military concert in Beverly Hills, Calif. oD and the USO hosted the Nov. 30 event to honor comedian Bob Hope, Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America and the film industry for supporting America's armed forces. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
DoD and the USO joined forces to host a military concert Nov. 30 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, and United Services Organization President retired Army Gen. John H. Tilelli paid tribute to the Hollywood film industry.
Johnny W. Grant, ceremonial mayor of Hollywood and veteran of 54 USO shows, served as master of ceremonies. "In six decades, literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of professional entertainers have generously shared their talents with our GIs," he said.
Under the USO banner, stage and screen stars from Martha Raye to the Go-Go Girls "performed at camp shows stateside, in the heat of combat in far-off lands and in the hospital wards of the world," he said. "They did it to show that America cares and appreciates the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make each and every day to continue our way of life free from oppression."
The military show drew a host of celebrity guests, including "Psycho's" Janet Leigh, Penny Singleton, known in the 1950s as "Blondie," USO performer Terry Moore, film star Piper Laurie, Elizabeth Shue and other actresses. "West Wing" producer Llewellyn Wells and "Beverly Hillbillies'" Buddy Ebsen, joined Michael Douglas, Michael York, and other actors.
"It's exhilarating to see all these people come together," Air Force 1st Lt. Charles J. Pacello said as the celebrities arrived and walked the red carpet past the news cameras to the hotel ballroom. A logistics officer at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Pacello was one of the local troops supporting the show.
"We've been working pretty hard getting prepared for this to have everything just so, but every minute of preparation was worth it," he said.
"This is how you picture the USO shows from times past, in World War II, in the '50s in Korea, and in Vietnam," Pacello said. "This is their civilian outreach to us and it's exciting. It's awesome."
A young Coast Guardsman from U.S. Coast Guard Station Los Angeles was assigned as military escort to actress Catherine Bell for the evening. Bell stars as a Marine Corps lawyer on the hit TV series "JAG." Asked if he had any complaints about the additional duty, the Coast Guardsman replied in the negative. To the contrary, he said with a smile, "This is quite a treat."
The Army Reserve's 91st Division Pipe and Drums escorted guests of honor to the ballroom's head table. Academy and multiple Grammy Award winning composer Quincy Jones then opened the show leading the Air Force's premier jazz ensemble. The "Airmen of Note" played "Esprit de Corps," a medley of service songs. Throughout the audience of about 350 guests, those who served in the military stood when their service song played.
Retired Air Force Col. and astronaut Buzz Aldrin was among those who stood for the Air Force. Actors Charlton Heston and Mickey Rooney stood for the Army, as did Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan. Kirk Douglas and Robert Stack stood for the Navy. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson stood for the Marine Corps.
Celebrity entertainers introduced military performers. JAG's Bell introduced Coast Guard soloist Petty Officer 1st class Tracy J. Thomas. The actress admitted she knew little about the military before joining the JAG cast. While the show sometimes makes a few mistakes, she told an "Entertainment Tonight" reporter, the goal is to portray the military "in a positive light, with honor and integrity."
"It's such an honor to be on a show that represents our military and the armed forces," Bell said. "They do so much for our country and some people realize it and some don't. So it's neat to make those who don't aware of it."
Angie Dickinson, currently appearing in the film "Pay it Forward," introduced the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus from Fort Bragg, N.C. Veteran actress Connie Stevens, who currently supports the National Guard's Youth Challenge Program, introduced Army tenor Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Giuliano.
Cuba Gooding Jr., currently starring in the film "Men of Honor," introduced the Navy band "Country Current." Gooding told reporters he chose to do the film about Navy diver Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear because he found it inspiring.
"I didn't know that a man like that existed," he said. "Previously, I'd gotten so many scripts about black men going to prison and coming out angry…. Here was an inspirational story about a guy who wasn't angry about his existence, who acted out of what he thought was his job."
Gooding said he wanted to portray Brashear's "infectious and charismatic" personality. "So many people I meet have been inspired by the film, so I'm really proud of it." The actor added that he believes public support, and especially Hollywood's support, for the military is very important.
"We ask the military to protect us and handle issues abroad and domestically," he said. "When you ask somebody to do something for you, then you need to support them." Through the USO, Gooding said, actors and actresses can use their "star power" to show support for the military.
Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of "Top Gun," "Crimson Tide" and next year's "Pearl Harbor," introduced a joint service drill team that wrapped up the night's entertainment.
Throughout the concert, military performers such as Marine Corps master violinist Gunnery Sgt. Peter J. Wilson and pianist Staff Sgt. Erik P. Apland received standing ovations from the celebrity-filled crowd. The longest applause of the night, however, went to a young naval officer in the audience -- Ensign Jason Van Foeken of Temecula, Calif.
Van Foeken was the USS Cole's communications officer Oct. 12, when the destroyer was attacked in Yemen. The Hollywood audience stood in honor of the 17 sailors killed, the three dozen injured and the survivors who fought to save the ship.
"Hollywood has played a role in the security of this country throughout history," Cohen told the audience. "Back in World War I, movie stars and celebrities helped push liberty bonds. In World War II, many of the celebrities raised over a million dollars to support that war.
Films such as "Top Gun," "Saving Private Ryan," "Men of Honor" and "Pearl Harbor" pay great tribute to the military, the secretary said. "The film industry is important in shaping what people think about our military and supporting them. We in the Pentagon wanted to say 'Thank you' to Hollywood."
Cohen presented DoD's first Citizen Patriot Award to Jack Valenti, Motion Picture Association of America president and chief executive officer. The secretary established the award this year to acknowledge outstanding efforts on behalf of America's men and women in uniform, including efforts to identify and bring to public attention the contributions of American troops at home and abroad.
As head of the motion picture association, Valenti has led the American film and television industry for 34 years. Valenti has been an avid proponent of the men and women in uniform, Cohen said, and has used his influence to perpetuate the positive image of the military both on and off screen.
The secretary also awarded DoD's Medal for Distinguished Public Service award to Grant in honor of his more than 50 years' service to the military. "From Korea and Vietnam to Beirut and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Grant never hesitated to place himself directly in harm's way to reach out to and provide support for America's military," Cohen said.
The USO presented its highest award, the "Spirit of Hope," to comedian Bob Hope and his family for their service to the nation and commitment to the armed forces. Hope's daughter, Linda, accepted the bronze plaque on behalf of the family.
"I'm so sad that my Dad and Mother couldn't be here tonight," she said. "They have such warm feelings and such love, and certainly great appreciation to be remembered this way. … It's our hope that for many, many years to come there will be people like Johnny Grant who go out there every year and do their thing for the troops."
As new USO president, Tilelli said he aims to "reconnect" Hollywood with the troops.
"Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard love celebrity entertainment, but they're underserved around the world," he said. "When we get an opportunity to have a celebrity go out and show their appreciation, and America's appreciation, to the troops -- that's what the USO is all about."
The Hollywood concert gave military entertainers from each of the services a chance to thank the stars, Tilelli said. "Our kids are so multitalented," he said. "They can do so much with so little, it just makes your heart swell."
Langhart Cohen noted that the concert also paid tribute to the countless USO volunteers who give their time and their talent and their resources. "They go everywhere and anywhere our service members are to lift their spirits, to enhance the quality of their lives of those of their families, and to give them in those far away places a touch of home."