Tom Hanks—History’s Master Storyteller

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Campaign Chair Tom Hanks speaks at the launch of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation's Hidden Heroes campaign at U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

By Kat Castagnoli, Editor, U.S. Veterans Magazine

When you think of blockbuster hits like Splash, Big, Apollo 13, Cast Away, Saving Private Ryan and Forest Gump, who immediately comes to mind?

None other than the incredibly talented Tom Hanks.

Arguably one of the greatest actors and filmmakers of our time, Hanks has a way of bringing characters to life that resonate with us long after the credits roll. From Forest Gump’s memorable, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” to Andy and Buzz Lightyear’s best friend, Woody, in the animated Toy Story, Hanks is a master storyteller.

But perhaps nowhere is this more prevalent than in his tales of World War II. Hanks’ latest film, Greyhound, spotlights the Battle of the Atlantic—a much-overlooked chapter in WWII naval history. Hanks, who stars as United States Navy Commander Ernest Krause, adapted the screenplay from C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel, The Good Shepherd (not to be confused with the 2006 film, The Good Shepherd, about the founding of the CIA), according to Smithsonian Magazine.com.

Set in the winter of 1942, Greyhound—a nod to the nickname of the U.S.S. Keeling, a destroyer under Krause’s command—features Hanks as a newly promoted officer tasked with leading his first transatlantic convoy through a swath of water known as the “Black Pit.” Per the movie’s official description, Krause must protect his fleet from Nazi U-boats over a five-day period without air cover.

The 63-year-old actor’s penchant for war dramas has not only earned him an Academy Award— for his role as Army Capt. John Miller in the acclaimed 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan—he also received an honorary induction into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame for his unforgettable depiction. Hanks also helped write, direct and produce the famed HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, a dramatization of actions in WWII by “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. In addition, he worked behind-the-scenes on The Pacific, a companion series to Band of Brothers that focused on the Marine Corps in the Pacific theater during WWII.

In talking about Hollywood portrayals of veterans and service members in a Stripes.com interview, Hanks said, “I think in Hollywood, the best thing anyone can do is to tell the true story, to be authentic about it and not mythologize.

“I don’t think there’s any more stereotypical character than a twisted veteran who’s never going to be the same,” Hanks said. “The reality is, when you talk to people and hear these stories, people are just trying to get on with the rest of their lives.”

‘I’m All In’

While this two-time Oscar winner has most certainly shed light on

Tom Hanks (as Captain John Miller), takes a moment to reflect, upon surviving D-Day.
LOS ANGELES – The movie “Saving Private Ryan”, directed by Steven Spielberg. Seen here, Tom Hanks (as Captain John Miller), takes a moment to reflect, upon surviving D-Day. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

veterans and the military in his on-screen portrayals, he’s done even more off screen. In 2016, Hanks eagerly took on the role of chairman of the Hidden Heroes campaign—created by former Senator Elizabeth Dole to raise awareness of the many challenges military caregivers face.

In a Military.com interview, Dole recalls how quickly Hanks agreed to get involved. “He didn’t even wait for me to finish my pitch before he said, ‘Senator, I’m all in. I’m in it for the long haul. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

She added since then, Hanks has, “responded to every request, taken every phone call, and posed for every selfie.”

The Hidden Heroes campaign began after Dole’s foundation commissioned a study that found there are at least 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States providing an estimated $14 billion worth of uncompensated health care annually to loved ones. One-fifth of them are caring for someone who served after Sept. 11, 2001.

The foundation’s latest work for military caregivers is to map out where they live so it can customize help to address each person’s specific needs, such as mental and physical health; community support at home; and employment and workplace support.

Hanks says he first gained military perspective by growing up near the Alameda Naval Air Station during the Vietnam War and seeing how big a deal it was for his friends when their fathers returned home.

“I have received a vast education of the type of service that was never asked of me because I was too young and there was no draft,” he said. “So, this is a matter of giving back.”

A Challenging Childhood

Actor Tom Hanks in the press room after accepting the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – 77th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS — Pictured: Actor Tom Hanks in the press room after accepting the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Thomas Jeffrey Hanks was born in Concord, Calif., to mother Janet, a hospital worker; and father, Amos, an itinerant cook; on July 9, 1956. When his parents divorced in 1960, Tom, his sister Sandra (later Sandra Hanks Benoiton, a writer), and his brother Larry (an entomology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign), went to live with their father, while his youngest brother Jim (who also became an actor and filmmaker), stayed with their mother in Red Bluff, Calif.

Hanks spent much of his childhood moving and constantly changing schools. By the age of 10, he had lived in 10 different houses. Hanks said he was unpopular with students and teachers, later telling Rolling Stone Magazine, “I was a geek, a spaz. I was horribly, painfully, terribly shy. At the same time, I was the guy who’d yell out funny captions during filmstrips. But I didn’t get into trouble. I was always a real good kid and pretty responsible.”

After settling in Oakland, CA, he began performing in high-school plays. He continued acting while attending California State Sacramento University, and left to pursue his vocation full-time. In 1978, Hanks went to find work in New York; while there he married actress/producer Samantha Lewes, whom he later divorced 1987. They had one son, Colin, and one daughter, Elizabeth.

Hanks’ first onscreen debut was in the low-budget slasher movie, He Knows You’re Alone (1979). Shortly after, he moved to Los Angeles and landed a co-starring role in the TV sitcom, Bosom Buddies, where he met his current wife, actress Rita Wilson. Before marrying Wilson in 1988, Hanks converted to her Greek Orthodox faith and actively attends church to this day. The pair have two sons, Chester Marlon “Chet” and Truman Theodore.

Hanks and Wilson most recently made headlines by testing positive for COVID-19 while the actor was shooting in Australia during the pandemic.  Hanks was filming Baz Luhrmann’s biopic on Elvis Presley as Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and production on the film shut down after his diagnosis.

According to CNN.com, Hanks says although he didn’t have symptoms as bad as Wilson, he, “was wiped after 12 minutes [of exercising]. I laid down in my hospital bed and just slept,” Hanks told the National Defense Radio Show.

Thankfully, by late March, both Hanks and his wife were released from the hospital and allowed to return to Los Angeles following their quarantine.

Back to the Barracks

Although Hanks is well-known for his comedic roles, he has earned

Tom Hanks in “Greyhound,” a new film on Apple TV+.
Tom Hanks in “Greyhound,” a new film on Apple TV+.
(Photo credit: Apple TV+)

an even wider audience by playing dramatic roles, such as the AIDS-afflicted homosexual lawyer in the drama, Philadelphia (1993). Hanks won back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor in Philadelphia, as well as for his portrayal of the slow-witted but ever-lucky Forrest Gump. Hanks said in a USAToday.com interview that some of his favorite scenes were between Forrest and Lieutenant Dan, his commanding officer in the Vietnam War who later became his best friend, played by Gary Sinise—both a personal friend of Hanks and a devotee of veterans and military causes.

Hanks has been the recipient of numerous acting honors, including the Cecil B. DeMille Award, a Golden Globe for lifetime achievement. In addition, he received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2014 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

So, what’s next for Hanks? A return to his World War II roots with a follow up series to Band of Brothers called Masters of the Air, which will be executive produced by himself and Steven Spielberg. In the works for Apple TV+, the miniseries is expected to run north of eight hours, and will reportedly cost more than $200 million to make, according to Deadline.com

Based on Donald L. Miller’s book, Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany, it’s said to follow the true, deeply personal story of the American bomber boys in WWII who brought the war to Hitler’s doorstep. The first two installments in the Band of Brothers franchise, Band of Brothers and The Pacific, focused on the United States’ Army and Marine divisions.

Said Hanks, “When Saving Private Ryan was done, I had in my head oceans of information that came out of everything that I read, particularly the first-person histories, and I just thought, ‘This is rich and it’s different, and this more than the movie that we made,'” he said in an interview on ABCNews.com. “So out of that came Band of Brothers, which led to The Pacific, which could lead to any—even current things that go on, because I find out that there is nothing better than a true story well told, so we keep finding them.”

This Veteran is Helping Fellow Vets Transition to Civilian Life Through Video Gaming

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video gamer online with headphones on looking at monitor

One medically retired veteran of the U.S. Army is helping recreate the brother and sisterhood people often find in the service through his YouTube channel that focuses on gaming—and self-care.

After Christopher Boehm left the army, he learned from a friend the staggering statistic that 22 veterans die each day by suicide.

Being injured and having a past struggle with alcohol abuse, he connected with the pain of these veterans.

He decided then that he wanted to help others leaving the service smoothly transition to civilian life.

When he learned that the U.S. Army uses Twitch, a live streaming platform for gamers, for recruitment purposes, he knew he could do something similar to connect with veterans and prevent the social isolation and depression that exists in the veteran community.

Christopher set up his own YouTube channel, Bayonet X-Ray, where he plays video games live for 22 minutes at sunrise each morning—representing the 22 veterans that die by suicide each day.

While gaming, Boehm shares strategies for combating PTSD and depression, daily motivation, and tips on healthy eating and breathing. He also provides general camaraderie for isolated veterans.

“My goal is to connect with veterans that can’t access other services,” explains Boehm. “This YouTube channel is my way of helping my brothers and sisters, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important to stay connected and break up the day to day monotony.”

Boehm has a kind, peaceful voice, and his YouTube channel isn’t just for veterans: It’s for everyone. Check it out today.

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

Landing Home—Now on Amazon Prime

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landing-home-movie-poster

For many combat veterans, deployment doesn’t neatly end when their tour is up. The brain, once engaged at combat level, simply can’t turn off and pivot to the mundane details of civilian life in the time it takes to touch down on American soil. Returning home in any real way takes a different set of skills—skills that many veterans see as elusive at best. Maybe even impossible to attain.

To that end, “Landing Home” is a seven-part TV series that shares the compelling story of a veteran trying to adjust to civilian life after leaving the military. It deftly takes the audience into the mind of a combat soldier freed from duty but never free, pulls back the curtain on the lasting damage of war to the human psyche, and helps the viewer understand that returning home can represent only the beginning of a different kind of war.

Leaning into authenticity, the series includes more 20 veterans in cast and crew, many of whom saw action. Douglas Taurel plays Luke, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. While he decides to leave the military in order to be with his family, he soon realizes that this is much harder than he ever imagined. Something as simple as a birthday party for his five-year-old daughter can quickly become overwhelming and trigger his post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My goal with the project is to give people a true sense of the emotional and psychological effect war has on our veterans and why it’s so hard for them and their families to assimilate back into normal life,” Taurel said. “We owe our veterans and their families so much. We all need to understand the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make and what their families endure. We can never thank them enough.”

WATCH THE TRAILER!

Taurel is best known for his gripping one-man play, “The American Soldier,” which has performed in 16 cities and 11 states with notable spaces like the Kennedy Center, Off-Broadway, Library of Congress, and the American Legion’s National Headquarters to name a few. This play also touches on many aspects of war and explores the sacrifices and challenges our veterans and their families face as they return home from combat.

“Landing Home” is available on Amazon, Amazon Prime and Vimeo On Demand.

The TV series will help the civilian population understand what it means to serve our country. To let everyone know that veterans face an even bigger, sometimes hidden struggle to adjust to a normal way of life.
– Joe Reynolds / Vietnam Veteran

So wish the whole world especially every Veteran could see it. What your work, art, craft, talent represents is “Something that matters in life”…don’t ever forget or DOUBT that!
– John Caoli / Iraq Veteran

I just purchased your series Landing Home and already in just the first episode I can feel the resurfacing of what it felt like for me 29 years ago. That is when I came home from a war to begin fighting my own personal battle. I am honored to know you and honored by the work you do for us!
– Lynn Santosuosso / Iraq Veteran

About Douglas Taurel
Taurel has been nominated for Innovative Theater Award as well as the United Kingdom prestigious Amnesty International Award for this work with The American Soldier. He’s appeared in numerous television shows including The Affair, Mr. Robot, The Americans, Blue Bloods, Person of Interest, The Following, Damages, NYC 22, Believe, and Nurse Jackie. The Los Angeles Times said his work on Nurse Jackie, “Nurse Jackie gets her most fascinating character yet to date.”

He was commissioned by the Library of Congress to write, create and perform his second solo show, An American Soldier’s Journey Home which commemorates the ending of the First World War and tells the story of Irving Greenwald, a soldier in the 308 Regiment and part of the Lost Battalion. He has performed the play twice at the Library of Congress.

“DESERT ONE” Opens Friday, August 21!

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Desert One military helicoper on the ground with people nearby

New York, NY – 40 years later, one of the most daring military rescue attempts in U.S. history is coming to the big screen.

Greenwich Entertainment will release the acclaimed documentary feature “Desert One” from two-time Academy Award® winner Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County USA” and “American Dream”) on Friday, August 21. The documentary feature, produced by HISTORY®, recounts the April 24/25, 1980 thrilling attempt to rescue 52 US citizens who were taken hostage by Iranian revolutionaries in Tehran.

The film includes a wealth of unearthed archival sources, as well as intimate interviews with President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Walter Mondale, Ted Koppel, former hostages, journalists, and Iranian student revolutionaries who orchestrated the take-over of the American Embassy in Tehran. Evocative new animation and never before heard satellite phone recordings of President Carter talking to his generals as the mission unfolds, bring audiences closer than anyone has ever gotten to being on the inside for this history making operation.

“Desert One” is the story of Americans working together to overcome the most difficult problem of their lives. When radical Islamists take fifty-two American diplomats and citizens hostage inside Iran, Carter secretly green-lights the training for a rescue mission. America’s Special Forces soldiers also find themselves in uncharted territory, planning a top-secret rescue of unprecedented scale and complexity.

Driven by deep empathy toward the kidnapped Americans, the heart-pounding and unforeseen events the rescue team participated in will forever unite them.

WATCH THE TRAILER!!

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ release date pushed to summer 2021

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Top Gun Tom Cruise Kelly McGillis poster

Those feeling the need for speed are going to have to wait until next summer to see “Top Gun: Maverick.”

The sequel to the hit 1986 film, “Top Gun” starring Tom Cruise was supposed to hit theaters in December. Paramount announced on Thursday that the film will now premiere July 2, 2021.

Cruise is reprising his role as US Naval aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. It also stars Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm and is directed by Joseph Kosinski.

“We truly believe that there is no movie-viewing experience like the one enjoyed in theatres,” Paramount’s president of domestic distribution Chris Aronson, and president of international theatrical distribution Mark Viane said in a statement. “We are committed to the theatrical experience and our exhibition partners, and want to stress that we are confident that, when the time comes, audiences everywhere will once again enjoy the singular joy of seeing Paramount films on the big screen.”

This is the second delay for “Maverick’s” theatrical release. In April, the film’s debut was pushed from June to December due to the Covid-19 pandemic and global theater closures.

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

GREYHOUND—Starring Tom Hanks

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picture of Tom Hanks in military uniform on Greyhound movie poster

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ernest Krause is assigned to lead an Allied convoy across the Atlantic during World War II.

His convoy, however, is pursued by German U-boats.

Although this is Krause’s first wartime mission, he finds himself embroiled in what would come to be known as the longest, largest and most complex naval battle in history: The Battle of the Atlantic.

During the Battle of the Atlantic, convoy HX-25, consisting of 37 Allied ships, is making its way to Liverpool.

The convoy’s escort consists of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Keeling, codenamed Greyhound; the British destroyer, HMS James, codenamed Harry, the Polish destroyer ORP Viktor (with a Royal Navy liason officer on the radio), codenamed Eagle; and the Canadian Flower-class corvette, HMCS Dodge, codenamed Dickie.

The escorts are under the command of Commander Ernest Krause of the United States Navy aboard Greyhound; despite his seniority it is his first wartime command.

The film is directed by Aaron Schneider and starring Tom Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay, and is based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester. It also stars Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, and Elisabeth Shue.

WATCH THE TRAILER!

 

Read about Tom Hanks in U.S. Veterans Magazine’s mid-August issue featured cover story!

FATHER SOLDIER SON—WATCH THE TRAILER!

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FATHER SOLDIER SON promo poster featuring three side views of a child, teen and father in uniform

Duty. Country. Family. From The New York Times comes a documentary 10 years in the making. FATHER SOLDIER SON releases globally on Netflix this month.

This intimate documentary from The New York Times follows a former platoon sergeant and his two young sons over almost a decade, chronicling his return home after a serious combat injury in Afghanistan.

Originating as part of a 2010 project on a battalion’s yearlong deployment, reporters-turned-filmmakers Catrin Einhorn and Leslye Davis stuck with the story to trace the longterm effects of military service on a family.

At once a verité portrait of ordinary people living in the shadow of active duty and a longitudinal survey of the intergenerational cycles of military service, FATHER SOLDIER SON is a profound and deeply personal exploration of the meaning of sacrifice, purpose, duty and American manhood in the aftermath of war.

FATHER SOLDIER SON releases globally on Netflix July 17.

Directed and Produced by:
Leslye Davis & Catrin Einhorn

WATCH THE TRAILER!

USO Celebrates Military Service Members this 4th of July with Series of Virtual Events Including “Four on the 4th” and Annual Comedy Radiothon with K-Earth 101

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USO virtual Fireworks display with a US Flag flying in the foreground

USO is celebrating military service members and their families during “Four on the 4th – Ruck, Walk & Run for Independence” this 4th of July. The virtual fun run, presented by Delta Air Lines, includes USO music playlists, rise and shine warm-up featuring Robert Killian, National Anthem sung by the USO Show Troupe and a virtual celebration.

Participants will also receive a USO branded t-shirt, downloadable bib, face mask and medal to show their support for America’s military service members. Whether you ruck, walk or run, participating on the 4th of July will directly benefit deserving military service members and their families. “Four on the 4th – Ruck, Walk & Run for Independence” is our opportunity to celebrate our nation’s heroes as a united patriotic community while social distancing.

Invite family, friends and co-workers to participate in this celebratory event and tag USO on FacebookInstagram or Twitter to share your support.

Ahead of “Four on the 4th,” tune into The Annual Bob Hope USO Radiothon event on Thursday, July 2, 2020 from 6 – 10 a.m. as comedians bring laughter and entertainment all morning long broadcasted live on the Gary Bryan Morning Show on K-Earth 101 featuring co-host Lisa Stanley. The annual program is reimagined this year to virtually bring together our nation’s troops, the funniest comedic talent, and Bob Hope USO’s dedicated community partners including the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) and Delta Air Lines.

WHEN: 

The Annual Bob Hope USO Radiothon with the Gary Bryan Morning Show on K-Earth 101
Thursday, July 2, 2020
6 a.m. – 10 a.m.

“Four on the 4th – Ruck, Walk & Run for Independence”
Saturday, July 4, 2020
7:30 a.m. Rise and Shine warm-up on Facebook Live featuring Robert Killian

WHERE:
The Annual Bob Hope USO Radiothon will be broadcast live with the Gary Bryan Morning Show on K-Earth 101 from the Bob Hope USO at LAX.
“Four on the 4th – Ruck, Walk & Run for Independence” will take place virtually, whether it be your favorite trail, park or around your neighborhood!

DETAILS: 

Text “Freedom” to 90990 to donate in support of the weekend long festivities. Sign-up for “Four on the 4th” as an individual, team or sponsor. Registration is $35 per person. All proceeds go to USO’s mission of strengthening America’s service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country. Interested parties are encouraged to register before Friday, June 26 and can sign-up at goneforarun.com/uso. Sponsorship opportunities are available for those interested in generously sponsoring free races for USO military families to join, as well. For sponsorship opportunities please visit cvent.com/d/bnqyj6 or contact Gaby Coyle at gcoyle@uso.org for more information.

MORE FROM THE USO:

The USO’s annual T-shirt campaign will run throughout July and is a way for military supporters to express their thanks to service members and military families who are serving around the world to keep us safe, protect the country and answer the call when emergencies and natural disasters strike.

With a donation of $29 or more, military supporters will receive a limited-edition patriotic shirt. Donations to the USO go toward programs and services that strengthen the Armed Forces and keep them connected to family, home and country. The USO carries out its mission through reading and food programming for families, transition resources for service members and military spouses, care packages and entertainment that reach troops in the most remote places of the world and more.

The public can visit USO.org/tshirt to donate and get their exclusive shirt.

“At the USO, we focus on being the Force Behind the Forces. This campaign is a way for Americans to join in and be part of the effort to support our military,” said USO CEO and President Dr. J.D. Crouch II. “When each of us takes action, the collective impact is tremendous. Donations raised will help the USO continue to provide care, comfort and connection to keep our military and their families strong.”

Each year service members select the T-shirt design by voting at USO locations around the world. The chosen design becomes the limited-edition shirt of the year, known as the “Official Uniform of the Military Supporter”.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the campaign. USO tour veteran and multiplatinum, GRAMMY Award-winning artist Zac Brown developed this year’s patriotic design and printed the shirts through his own brand, Atlanta-based Zac Brown Collective. Longstanding USO partner Kroger provided the shirts made of recycled material.

“We can’t overstate our appreciation and gratitude for our military service men and women around the world and the USO which is there whenever and wherever our troops need some of the familiar comforts, connections and tastes of home,” said Keith Dailey, Kroger’s group vice president of corporate affairs. “Since 2010, the Kroger Family of Companies has provided more than $33 million to the USO. And in keeping with our long-standing commitment to the organization, we are matching up to $250,000 to support this year’s USO T-shirt campaign, uplifting service members and their families.”

Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the T-shirt campaign is the USO’s first-ever Fourth of July special. This will be the first of a three-part summer series airing through Labor Day. It will provide both military and military supporter audiences the chance to tune in to see musicians and personalities share their support for the military community.

The Fourth of July concert will air on the USO’s Facebook, YouTube and Twitch channels at 12 a.m. ET and 12 p.m. ET to accommodate time zones around the world. The event will include a variety of segments from USO tour veterans comedian Iliza Shlesinger and actor/musician Craig Robinson along with “America’s Got Talent” world champion Shin Lim. It will also include a special nod to American surf music by the iconic Mike Love and The Beach Boys, featuring special guest John Stamos. Country music legend Clint Black will headline the first concert, and the series will continue through August with artists such as Florida Georgia Line, The Chainsmokers and more.

“Providing high-quality entertainment for our military and their families is in the USO’s DNA. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still meeting our entertainment mission – virtually, reaching thousands of people globally,” said Christopher Plamp, USO senior vice president of operations, programs and entertainment. “This virtual concert series is one example of the programming that positions the USO as the premier military entertainment provider. The concerts will also express the nation’s gratitude and help the American public gain an understanding of the critical ways the USO strengthens service members and their families.”

The summer series is a continuation of the recently launched USO MVP series, providing virtual delivery across USO operations, programs and entertainment activities during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Since April 1, the USO’s entertainment division has hosted 30 virtual engagements across 24 countries and 37 states and territories. View more of the USO MVP virtual playlist at USO.org/MVP.

About the USO:
The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. At hundreds of locations worldwide, we are united in our commitment to connect our service members and their families through countless acts of caring, comfort and support. The USO is a private nonprofit organization, not a government agency. Our programs and entertainment tours are made possible by the American people, support of our corporate partners and the dedication of our volunteers and staff. To join us in this important mission, and to learn more about the USO, visit USO.org or at FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

USVCC, NFL Hall of Fame Host Service & Sports Heroes

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A military veteran sitting in a wheelchair in his uniform, looking at the camera

By Rich Dolan

On March 9, the United States Veterans Chamber of Commerce (USVCC)—in conjunction with the Pro Football Hall of Fame—hosted a benefit dinner to support the U.S. Invictus team. The event was hosted at the historic New York Athletic Club, whose athletes have won 271 Olympic medals since the inaugural Modern Olympic Games in 1896.

The night was dedicated to the bravery and commitment of the wounded military veterans who make up the U.S. Invictus team and featured a silent auction of NFL memorabilia to benefit the team. Kevin “Red Eagle” Brown, president and CEO of USVCC, opened up the night, explaining the mission of the USVCC and the organization’s dedication to helping veterans successfully transition from the military to civilian life.

“Underneath the umbrella of support for all veterans, we have a laser-focused look at our wounded warriors that are participating in adaptive sports,” said Brown.

Brown also recognized the late Pro Football Hall of Fame member Chris Doleman for his contributions to USVCC and the veteran community. “It was his original inspiration that identified the similarities between transitioning ball players and transitioning service members.

“Both of them leaving behind a team, both of them leaving behind something bigger than themselves—a higher calling, a mission, a victory,” said Brown.

Medal of Honor recipient Paul “Bud” Bucha also spoke to the attendees, defining what it meant to be an adaptive athlete. “An adaptive athlete is a competitor who uses the modification in sports to meet the challenge of their disability,” said Bucha. “Basically, an adaptive athlete is an able-bodied athlete with all the problems mankind can think of being thrown in their way.” He went on to thank the many corporate sponsors of the night, the athletes and the veterans who he added, “have gone to the gates of hell and back to serve their country.”

Retired Army Master Sergeant and U.S. Invictus team co-captain George Vera also spoke to the attendees. Vera shared his personal story of the events that led to him become an adaptive athlete. In 2015, Vera’s base in Afghanistan was attacked by terrorists using a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) and assaulters with suicide vests in an attempt to overrun the outpost. Vera led part of a counterattack that successfully defeated the terrorists inside the base.

However, in the process Vera was shot four times in his legs and back, leaving him paralyzed below the waist. Vera experienced a rollercoaster ride of emotions throughout his recovery, and he explained how adaptive sports helped save his life. “Although I couldn’t be a regular Special Forces guy, Istill had the ability to help lead,” said Vera.

He also discussed the bond that adaptive sports bring to the wounded warrior community. “Although it’s great to bring home the gold medal, I don’t really think that’s what it’s about—it’s more about overcoming adversity and helping others overcome adversity,” Vera said.

Among the other honored guests of the night were Pro Football Hall of Fame members Kevin Greene, Curtis Martin, Mike Haynes, Curly Culp, Harry Carson, Morten Andersen and Rickey Jackson. Greene also held a fireside chat for the attendees, where he spoke about his time serving in the U.S. Army and his reverence for the wounded warriors playing on the U.S. Invictus team.

“They volunteer, first of all, to serve our country in the combined armed forces, and then despite all the adversity that they’ve experienced and are presently experiencing they’re now becoming heroes of the field of sports,” said Greene. “They’re being heroes for us now on a different stage, on an international stage, representing this country in these sporting events.” The fireside chat came to a playful close as Greene was asked if he would take Tom Brady on his team, to which he replied, “does a fat baby fart?”

The main event of the night featured a fireside chat between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker. Baker opened up the discussion by reciting “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. Henley wrote the poem in in the late 1870s after losing a leg to tuberculosis. The poem was meant to define fortitude in the face of adversity, and strength in the face of permanent disability.

Throughout the fireside chat, the long relationship between the NFL and the military was discussed, as well as the fact that three NFL players—including an NFL commissioner—have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Goodell then touched on his 2008 United Service Organizations (USO) tour that brought him to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait to visit deployed soldiers, saying, “I was just amazed at what these people do for us. The men and women in our military are just extraordinary,” added Goodell. He went on to say that the 10 days he spent on the tour were some of the most inspiring days of his life, adding that the debt which is owed to U.S. soldiers for what they sacrifice could never be repaid.

The two also discussed Goodell’s contributions to the veteran community, including his support of the Merging Vets & Players (MVP) organization, which helps transitioning service members and professional athletes navigate life outside of uniform together. When asked about his thoughts on the Invictus Games, Goodell told Baker that he didn’t think there was anything more inspiring.

“I don’t think that there’s anything more important in the world to show people that you do overcome those problems, you do overcome those challenges, and you’re doing something really positive in the world and inspiring people who are watching you as athletes on the world stage,” Goodell said. “When you combine football, athletes and our veterans, that’s a magical combination in my view.”

The night ended with the silent auction of NFL memorabilia and VIP picture opportunities. Over $150,000 was raised by 256 attendees and all proceeds will fund the U.S. Invictus Team Training Camp at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Campus in Canton, Ohio. Official sponsors of the event included Caliber Home Loans, Seeger Weiss, World’s Greatest Videos, Aetna, CVS Health, GEICO and Loews Hotels.

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Invictus Games have been postponed until 2021. For more information, visit invictusgamesfoundation.org

How the Girl Scouts are Spreading Joy to a Navy Ship

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A man in a military uniform holding a stack of packages

People Magazine‘s Senior Graphics Operator, Nikki Smalls, and Live Graphics Operator, Lucas Walsh, began a conversation one day about Walsh’s sister, Caitlin Walsh. Caitlin is currently serving in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Truman.

The entire crew of the Truman tested negative for COVID-19, but have collectively agreed to isolate themselves rather than take deployment as an extra precaution.

When Nikki Smalls heard about Caitlin and the rest of her crew, she wanted to find a way to show her gratitude for their service while also spreading some extra joy. Teaming up with her daughters’ Brownie Scouts Troop, Troop 83340, she decided to lead the girls in creating care packages to send to those serving on the U.S.S. Truman.

Continue on to People Magazine’s website to read the complete article

Jon Bon Jovi —A Song For The Unbroken

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by Kat Castagnoli, USVM Editor

With his signature black leather jacket, still-tousled hair and mega-watt smile, Jon Bon Jovi is every inch the rock superstar you’d expect him to be.

The band that bears his name has released 14 studio albums, five compilations and three live albums. This translates to 130 million records sold worldwide, with more than 2,700 performances in over 50 countries for more than 30 million adoring fans.

Yet the level of Bon Jovi’s fame is unequaled by the size of his heart. Few may know this son of two former Marines is true philanthropist, and he’s made helping military veterans and their families his personal mission.

During a recent interview on CNN’s ‘The Lead with Jake Tapper,’ Bon Jovi announced that his JBJ Soul Foundation has donated half a million dollars to help build 77 new homes for homeless veterans in Washington, D.C. The project has taken ten years to complete alongside Help USA, a non-profit whose goal is tackling the issue of homelessness in the United States.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 50 percent of veterans who were homeless (since 2010) have been housed. But Bon Jovi says there are still more out there who need a helping hand. “Oftentimes, they’re [veterans] left to deal with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and the issue of coming back to the workplace after leaving the battlefield,” he said in a blog on mypositiveoutlooks.com. “Life as you knew it is going to be different, and sometimes, people need that extra help.”

Born to Rock

Bon Jovi, or John Francis Bongiovi Jr., was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. His mother, Carol Sharkey, was a former model and one of the first Playboy Bunnies. She met Bon Jovi’s father, John Francis Bongiovi Sr., after she enlisted in the U.S. Marines. John Sr. was already serving when they met.

It’s been said that Bon Jovi is a blood relative to the late Frank Sinatra, who was Bon Jovi’s great uncle on his father’s side, according to a May 1988 issue of Spin Magazine. This would certainly account for the rock star’s love of music from such a young age.

“Every kid who ever played in their garage dreams of being in a “Big Rock Band,” and I was no different,” said Bon Jovi during his induction speech into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

He explained, “I was first introduced to music at seven years old when my mother brought home a guitar she bartered for, along with the Kenny Rogers “Learn to Play Guitar” record. As a kid, my parents took me to lessons where this guy in a little cubicle smoking a pipe, opened up a book of scales and tortured kids with his smoke and lack of interest.

“After a couple weeks, I quit, throwing that guitar down the basement stairs. That guitar laid there in the dark, until I was around 15 and a man named Al

Bon Jovi and rock band 1987
Portrait of American rock band Bon Jovi backstage before a performance, Illinois, 1987. Pictured are, from left, David Bryan, Tico Torres, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Alec John Such. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Parinello moved into our neighborhood. I didn’t learn quickly, and I was by no means any good, but Al showed me the magic of a song.”

Bon Jovi attended St. Joseph High School in New Jersey, but took little interest in his studies. He spent most of his adolescence dreaming about becoming a rock star; playing in his buddy’s basement, the local talent show, block dances and at clubs.

After high school, Bon Jovi worked as a janitor for a time. While sweeping floors at The Power Station in NYC, he got the opportunity to record demos. One of the demos, ‘Runaway,’ he sent to every label and manager he could think of before playing it for a D.J. at a new radio station. A few months later, ‘Runaway’ was playing on the radio, not only in New York, but in Tampa, Chicago, Detroit and Denver.

Shortly after, Bon Jovi was signed by Mercury/Polygram in 1983—the label he is still with to this day—and he gathered together David Bryan on the keyboard, Alec John Such as bassist and Tico Torres as the drummer to form the band, Bon Jovi. Their first album, Bon Jovi, was released in 1984.

Livin’ On a Prayer

By 1986, Bon Jovi had achieved widespread success and global recognition with their third album, Slippery When Wet, which sold 28 million copies worldwide. Slippery When Wet included three top 10 singles, two of which reached No. 1: “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

His next album, New Jersey, not only shared the same success as Slippery When Wet—the album had five top-10 hits on Billboard’s Hot-100. No other album or artist ever produced as many top-10 hits, according to IMDb.com. And two of these top-10 hits, “Bad Medicine” and “I’ll Be There For You” topped the charts at number one, according to Bon Jovi’s biography on Billboard.com.

Jon Bon Jovi performs at the Soul Foundation 10 Year Anniversary
Jon Bon Bovi sings onstage at the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation’s 10 year anniversary at the Garage in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

But despite his success, Bon Jovi felt something was missing. “I had the No. 1 album, the No. 1 single and I opened up the window of the hotel and there was us on the billboard out my window: Literally, right there, celebrating the No. 1 this and that,” he said in an ultimateclassicrock.com interview. “And I thought: ‘Wow, this is a high. What do I do to get higher?’”

During a break on tour, he and his high school sweetheart, Dorothea Hurley, flew out to Las Vegas to elope on April 29, 1989. Fast-forward 30 years later: the couple remains happily married with four children: a daughter, Stephanie Rose, and three sons, Jesse James Louis, Jacob Hurley and Romeo Jon.

“She’s the glue,” Bon Jovi said of his wife in a Huffpost.com interview. “I’m the crazy visionary with all kinds of things flying, and the seams are all splitting. She’s the one following me with the glue and the thread and needle, keeping it all together.”

To Be of Service

When Bon Jovi was asked to appear at Rockefeller Center in NYC for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony this past December, he seized the opportunity to share with military men and women his new song, “Unbroken,” which shines a light on veterans struggling with PTSD.

In an interview with Variety, Bon Jovi says the song is written from the perspective of a soldier living with the ghosts of combat—a “daunting task” for the songwriter because he himself had not served and the subject matter was foreign to him.

“When you write a song that has to do with soldiers, my only background in this was protest songs that were of the era, whether it was John Fogerty about Vietnam and “Fortunate Son,” or ultimately Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,’” Bon Jovi said.

But when Academy Award-nominated director Josh Aronson reached out about a documentary he was doing on a soldier’s journey, entitled, “To Be of Service,” the singer was instantly inspired.

“He [Aronson] told me just a couple of things that the soldiers had said that were going to be in the film. And when I asked him the name of the movie and he said, “To Be of Service“, I got it. “It came to me immediately,” he said. “I just grabbed my guitar and pretended to be that soldier and the narrator of the film.”

After Bon Jovi finished the song, he decided on a whim to send it to Prince Harry, creator of the Invictus Games—an annual international, multi-sport event for wounded, injured or sick servicemen and women. The games were named after the short poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, an amputee himself.

Prince Harry speaks with Jon Bon Jovi at Abbey Road Studios
Prince Harry speaks with Jon Bon Jovi at Abbey Road Studios, where a single has been recorded for the Invictus Games Foundation on February 28, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Hannah McKay – WPA Pool / Gettyimages)

Bon Jovi thought the Games’ choir of real soldiers singing “Unbroken” would bring attention to the issue of PTSD. “And so I just wrote him [Prince Harry] a letter and I said, ‘I’ve got this song, I’ve sung with your brother, I’ve met your father, your grandmother, your grandfather.’ And so I said listen to it and let me know. And so he said absolutely,” Bon Jovi explained in a Town & Country.com interview.

The duo met in February at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in northwest London to record a special single of “Unbroken” with the Invictus Games choir—the event one of the last public engagements Prince Harry made as an official royal.

While Coronavirus concerns have caused this year’s Invictus Games to be delayed until 2021, the special single of “Unbroken” debuted in March. The song will also be included in the forthcoming Bon Jovi album, “Bon Jovi 2020.”

Over the next year, Bon Jovi and Island Records will also donate 100 percent of the net proceeds from the download of the song to the Patriotic Service Dog Foundation, according to a Variety.com article.

And while “To Be of Service,” currently streaming on Netflix, takes viewers from boot camp and battle to night sweats and heartache, Bon Jovi found a way to not only honor veterans but end his song on a hopeful note, concluding, “well, the blessing and the curse is/ Yeah, I’d do it all again.”

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