On the night of Veterans Day, hundreds of thousands of people attended “The Concert for Valor” on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall (also available on HBO and Ustream), a three-hour concert that included a dozen musical acts, comedians, and gracious hosts, interspersed with emotional video vignettes about exceptional servicemen and women. Only a week after an enormously disappointing upset for the Democratic Party, the show illustrated the universality of America’s regard for our veterans, which clearly crosses party lines. Moreover, the traditionally liberal Hollywood actors and artists who performed electrified the audience in a breathtaking show of grace and gratitude.
It was a lovely tribute to veterans and active duty members, and it moved me to reflect on the common values we share as Americans—values and virtues that transcend the daily grind of partisan politics in the media; values and virtues best exemplified by our military servicemen and women—including a number of Hollywood celebrities who answered the call.
Industry: After Chuck Norris joined the United States Air Force in 1958, he served as an air policeman in South Korea, and soon began to gain interest in martial arts. Undoubtedly, he developed the Focus, Discipline, and mental and physical Strength required to build a career as an outstanding martial artist and actor.
Bravery: Clint Eastwood served in the United States Army in 1951, and was appointed a lifeguard and swim instructor at Fort Ord, California. He faced an extraordinary challenge when his AD-1 military aircraft crashed and sunk near the coast of California on his way to visit his parents in Seattle. Fortunately, his training gave him the Fortitude, Resoluteness, and Toughness needed that day: He and the pilot were forced to swim three miles to safety. Incidentally, it was at Fort Ord that he was “discovered” by a Hollywood director who was filming a series in the area and subsequently arranged to meet with the now legendary actor who went on to become a beloved director himself.
Benevolence: In 1981, Drew Carey joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and used the opportunity to launch a career as a comedian by performing stand-up comedy to the troops. His unique style of humor was surely fueled by the Charity, Generosity, and Empathy he developed while serving.
Responsibility: Three years after releasing his debut album, Elvis Presley entered the United States Army in 1958. His early success, including two hit singles on the radio, did not prevent him from devoting himself to service, and he was deployed to Germany within months of joining. In spite of the media frenzy that accompanied his participation, he remained committed to the Idealism, Humility, and Service he had developed, stating that he wanted to be treated no differently from his fellow service members.
Reliability: Hugh Hefner enlisted in the army in 1944 and served as a writer for a military publication for two years. The Devotion, Cooperation, and Obedience he developed paved the way for a long and illustrious career as a magazine publisher, renowned businessman, and cultural icon.
Determination: In the late 1970s, rapper/actor Ice-T spent four years in the 25th Infantry Division at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii after enlisting in the Army, apparently in an effort to straighten out his life, which had been characterized by drugs and crime. He was charged with theft at one point and was issued an Article 15, non-judicial punishment, but later received an Honorable Discharge. In addition to cultivating his interest in turntablism and rapping while in Hawaii, the qualities of Resourcefulness, Sobriety, and Restraint he learned certainly enabled him to make his mark as a well-known performance artist.
Ambition: Fresh out of high school in 1955, Morgan Freeman turned down a partial drama scholarship at Jackson State University in order to serve in the United States Air Force. His interest in flying planes led him to become an Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman, and he eventually achieved the rank of Airman 1st Class. His four years in service helped him develop the Commitment, Integrity, and Purposefulness that he is known for in his role as an accomplished actor and film director.
At “The Concert for Valor,” Metallica frontman James Hetfield made a telling comment when he said: “We finally get to play for our heroes.” In an industry that prides itself on fanciful displays of idolatry on the big screen, it’s refreshing to hear the reverence with which they regard America’s servicemen and women. Tuesday night’s tribute was a wonderful reminder that selflessness and honor are alive and well in America—and not lost on the leaders of Tinseltown.