Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
A star-spangled, star-studded celebration
Concert honors American heroes
by Matthew Smith | Special to The Gazette
Under red, white and blue gel stars shining in a darkened Silver Spring theater, a group of African-American jazz stars celebrated Veterans Day at a performance Sunday night for dozens of veterans.
"The reason we can sit here on a Sunday night is because veterans have lived and died for us," said Silver Spring jazz musician Marcus Johnson of the Marcus Johnson Project who performed at the event held at Round House Theatre in downtown Silver Spring with blues musicians Michel "Mike" Baytop and Jay Summerour. "Without the dedication of the veterans, we would not be here."
Veterans from several local organizations, including the charitable organization Operation Second Chance and the county branch of the American Legion, came to "chill" to driving jazz riffs and buzzing, soul-stirring songs of loss and glory.
But while the event featured music, America's veterans took center stage as officials and guests honored the sacrifice of those who fought for the nation's freedom.
"This concert is our first step to strengthen the community's ties to the veteran," said Alan Bowser, president of the Silver Spring Town Center, which sponsored the concert. Bowser said he hoped to make the concert an annual event as a "tribute to American's veterans."
Bill Bennett, president of the Montgomery County Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said Veterans Day was a day to celebrate the heroes of the past, present and future.
"It's a time we need to reflect on the shared sacrifice of all those who served for our nation's security," he said.
Bennett said he's concerned that fewer Americans answer the call to serve in the armed forces.
"We have a society that is less concerned for service and I don't think this is good," he said. "We need to broaden our base."
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), a Vietnam veteran, said the county and agencies such as Operation Second Chance, which helps veterans recover from war, must be supportive of veterans returning from war.
"For every one veteran hurt, an additional eight members of his family suffer. Veteran's Day is a day to comment, reach out and help. We are a great country," he said.
"We are so blessed to live in a country with these men," said Cindy McGrew, president of Operation Second Chance, which brought more than a dozen veterans to the concert. "We are blessed with these freedoms. We serve amputees; we give them a home because you have no idea what they've gone through."
In a ceremony, McGrew, as well as retired Army Capt. Jack Hewitt, who served in World War II and remains active in county veterans affairs, and Marcus Johnson received awards at the event. Leggett called McGrew "one of Montgomery's County's respected citizens" and Hewitt one of the county's "most respected veterans."
"Without the dedication of the veteran, we would not be here," Johnson said. "I have to thank God, it's possible to put one foot in front of another. I met Jack Hewitt; he showed me his WWII hat. One foot in front of another: He let me meet his grandson."
Hewitt said he was proud to attend the event and receive the award on behalf of all those who serve and all those who remain at home.
"We do what's right to recognize the veterans of all wars," he said. "I recognize the veterans of all wars, not just one war."
His great-grandson, Tucker Nalls, wants to serve in the Coast Guard.
Besides the awards ceremony and celebrating Veterans Day, a large portion of the event was dedicated to talk of the new Silver Spring Civic Center, which is under construction and will include a Veterans' Memorial Plaza.
Pete Esker, a Korean War veteran and adjutant with the American Legion, said the new Veterans Plaza will be a "building that we can all be proud of."
Several veterans and county officials said they were hoping to have the new center completed next year in time for a dedication on Veterans Day
For now, Bennett said the concert could bring more attention to veterans.
"Events like this are going to make our veterans more recognizable," he said.