Whether it be performing for troops overseas, contributing to various military organizations, or through song, Country Music Hall Fame member Charlie Daniels has paid tribute to our men and women in uniform in various ways over his career. But his latest endeavor spotlights that appreciation even more than ever.
Last Thursday (June 28), the 81-year-old entertainer performed at the Veteran Impact Celebration in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The sold-out fundraiser was held to benefit Middle Tennessee State University's Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, a place that is very near and dear to Daniels’ heart.
In addition to providing services such as job placement and medical care, the center is a place where veterans with like minds and experiences can come together. “I think that one the main things is that it’s a place where veterans can find some their own kind and fellowship with," Daniels tells Billboard. "They understand each other. I can sit here and talk about music and the process I go about in writing a song, and you may never have thought about that. You’d think ‘What the hell are you talking about? That’s kind the same thing. People who have seen the bombs, the conflict, people being killed – a lot other things seem very frivolous to them. They’re not concerned with who’s going to the dance with somebody next week. They’ve got more serious things on their mind. They can find somebody to talk with. It’s a place where they can get together and socialize.”
Daniels has seen the importance the Veteran Impact Celebration fundraiser through his own conversations with those who have served. "I was talking with a veteran the other day about suicide – 22 veterans a day commit suicide. That’s totally unacceptable," he declares. "It’s something that seems like it’s been put on the back burner by the VA – I don’t know if they’re doing anything seriously about it. This guy had come pretty close to the edge, and he said, ‘We come home, and have been in action, and have been occupied doing stuff all the time. Now, we’re sitting on the couch, the VA fills us full pills, and we have nothing to do. We feel irrelevant.' This gentleman started an organization to help veterans along those lines, and he does it with horseback riding. It’s great therapy for a veteran to have a horse to take care , and to devote themselves to.”
The goal the event is to take the work they are doing and spread it out to other locations. “What we’re really trying to do is get other colleges involved in having centers, too. We’re hoping to do that. (MTSU President) Dr. Sidney McPhee has been such a champion. He found this space for us – they say that one the hardest things to do is to find space on college campuses, but he found us a space. It’s been a matter cooperation with the college and a lot people.”
The mission the Center goes hand-in-hand with Daniels’ love for his country – and those who have fought for it. “I’ve been a patriot all my life. I’ve admired the military all my life. I grew up during the second World War, and I remember the casualty reports, the campaigns, MacArthur and Eisenhower, and all these guys fighting the war. I remember the newspapers. I remember D-Day. Mama got me up, took me to church. I was about 5 or 6 years old, and it was this summer morning in June. I didn’t know why she was getting me up so early. America had come together in the churches to pray for those serving on D-Day. I remember it well,” he says proudly the events June 6, 1944.
Daniels asserts that those serving today are just as brave. “I’ve been among them in so many places – Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Greenland, all over the place. These men and women are the best we’ve got. You take somewhere like Iraq or Afghanistan, there’s nothing there but sand. They can’t go into town like you can at an American base in Germany. But, they stay there, and get the job done. I think a lot people think that they have an extra gene that isolates them from loneliness. I’ve seen grown men showing me pictures their kids, crying. They get just as lonely as we do, and miss their families just as much as we do. But, that’s the dedication these people have. How could you not admire them? Everybody should respect our troops.”