Wednesday, June 27, 2007

American Music Legend Praises U.S. Servicemembers

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2007 – Standing in the Pentagon briefing room here, preparing to record a video message to troops deployed abroad, 70-year-old Charlie Daniels’ jaws, covered in tufts of white whiskers, work away at a wad of gum. As the camera starts rolling, he halts production.

“Oh, wait, I almost forgot!” he says in a country drawl, spitting his gum into a tissue. “My wife keeps yelling at me for going on TV with gum in my mouth.”

Daniels appeared here to accept the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service. The musician, perhaps best known for his chart-topping single, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” describes himself a blue-collar kind of guy. Instead of his signature “bull rider” Stetson hat, Daniels’ silvery-gray hair was covered by a baseball cap that featured a bald eagle poised before the American flag.

For more than 35 years, Daniels has entertained servicemembers with his unique blend of country, blues and rock music. The reason for his enduring support: Because men and women in uniform allow his family to sleep well at night.

“The people in our military are the best America has,” he said. “Without them, we would have no country.”

The Charlie Daniels Band has performed for troops at bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Korea and elsewhere. Daniels begins every show the same way, he says, telling the audience, “I bring you greetings from the United States of America!” and ends each show by signing autographs and posing for photos.

An encounter with one enlisted man had an especially profound impact on Daniels, providing inspiration for a song he titled “When I Get Back from Iraq.” The first verse of the bluesy ballad, Daniels recalled, centers on the moment an Iraqi veteran returns home from duty.

“One of the toughest guys I ever saw walked into a (backstage) tent, and he looked like he could bite a railroad spike in two. I mean, he had the shaved head and the muscles – he looked like Rambo on steroids,” Daniels remembered. “I didn’t know what he wanted, but he just came back and started crying.

“This was one of the toughest guys I ever saw, and it was like (he said), ‘You remind me of home, and there’s something at home I miss,’” Daniels said. “It was special that this man felt enough at home with me that he would break down and cry, because he did not look the type.”

In a voice husky with emotion, Daniels recalled the song’s lyrics.

“When I get back from Iraq, I’m gonna go stormin’ through my front door,” he said. “I’m gonna grab a hold of my baby and love her like she ain’t been loved before.”

After decades of touring, the septuagenarian still has a hard time staying in any one place for very long. Daniels and the band regularly tour America, honoring troops as they go.

“Every night I pay homage to the military in our show, and I can tell by the reactions in the crowd that support for our military in United States of America is strong; I mean, very, very strong,” he said. “I can’t tell you what’s going on in the halls of power, and the penthouses and the corporate offices of America, because I don’t live in that world.

“I’m very much a blue-collar person; I come from a blue-collar background. And we play for a lot of people in a year’s time, and I’m here to tell you, they support the military,” he said.

Daniels said his lifelong sense of patriotism and support for U.S. troops was born during World War II. He remembers sitting around the radio and listening to reports that Japan had bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

“We never ever thought we would lose,” he recalled about the war. “We always had that feeling -- everybody, grown folks, kids, everybody -- knew we were going to win the Second World War. My brand of patriotism came during that time.”

The musician said his perception of American culture isn’t formed by today’s mainstream media.

“We travel this country coast to coast and border to border every year,” he said, “and I know that a lot of people get their impressions by watching commercial television or reading the newspaper, and I find that support for the military in this country is so much more solid and so much more loyal and widespread than you would ever get from watching TV or reading the newspaper.

“America supports the military, and it’s important for me to know that the military knows that,” he said.

The Charlie Daniels Band documented their last two visits to bases around Iraq and recorded a CD/DVD multimedia offering titled “Live From Iraq,” which was released today.


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