My trip to Washington, D.C. earlier this week turned into much more than my simply hosting the CMA Songwriters Series show at the Library Of Congress on Tuesday night. I must admit, though, that performing on that stage, in that building, in that city, was one of the true highlights of my career.
We flew up on Monday, which gave us a large portion of the day on Tuesday to play tourist. Because of my song, “Old Army Hat,” the first place I wanted to visit was the World War II Memorial. We arrived there shortly after noon on a picture perfect day.
I was walking slowly around the grounds, reading and absorbing the many inspiring inscriptions engraved into the walls, when I noticed a group of elderly gentlemen in matching blue t-shirts gathering for a photograph in front of the fountains. Several of the men were in wheelchairs or on walkers, and nearly every one of them had on some type of hat or cap. Most of the hats had writing on them signifying some kind of connection to the military. One was even a 1940’s-style GI hat just like the one I sang about in my song. I quickly realized that these men were visiting the Memorial as part of an Honor Flight.
I walked over to one of the photographers and asked where the men were from. I was taken back when he said, “South Carolina.”
Suddenly I was five years old again, sitting by my dad’s little table model radio in Columbia, South Carolina, listening to the news reports of the fighting going on in Europe and the Far East. And it dawned on me that some of these very men I was looking at could have been our neighbors, could have been stationed at Fort Jackson just outside Columbia, could have been involved in some of the fighting and/or maneuvers that I was being told about every day on the news.
I had to fight back the urge to reach out and hug every one of them, to tell them thanks for what they had gone through, for the pain and agony they had endured in defense of the freedoms I know we sometimes take for granted. The only other time I had felt an emotion that strong was the day I visited Pearl Harbor and saw the names of nine Anderson’s on the plaque honoring those who died there in December, 1941.
These veterans faces were mostly filled with smiles. They waved their hands and hats up in the air for the picture takers. I could tell they were glad to be there…reunited with their buddies…thinking and reminiscing about the old times…and yet all the while missing the friends who were absent.
From the very minute I was asked to host the Library Of Congress show I had looked forward to singing “Old Army Hat” on that stage and for that audience. Tuesday night, I shared the story of my visit to the Memorial earlier in the day, and I told the crowd about the soldier from Tennessee who inspired the song. It was my final song of the evening, and it received by far the loudest and longest ovation of anything that I did.
Afterward, Mac Davis, Pam Tillis, Mo Pitney, and I met and had our pictures made with several members of Congress.
I tell audiences everywhere I go that I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen much of the world in my travels, and while I know that America is far from perfect, our nation has been richly blessed and highly favored. I had the opportunity to see and feel and be touched by many of those blessings up close and personal this week. I considered myself patriotic before I made the trip, and I came back home feeling even more so.
I’m so grateful for the experience.