|Veteran Ann Adair stands with the crowd to sing along with Little Anthony and the Imperials. Photo: VA Maryland Health Care System.|
Every seat in Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall was full.
Applause and cheers rumbled through the auditorium as emcee James Reynolds gave a "shout out" to Veterans from every branch of service and played each military anthem.
Then, the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Little Anthony and the Imperials began to sing. The ecstatic crowd swayed and sang along. This was their kind of music.
In celebration of the National Salute to Veteran Patients week, the VA and "Help Hospitalized Veterans," a nonprofit that provides therapeutic activities for Veterans in VA facilities, teamed up to host a series of free concerts across the country. (See related story.)
The event honors hospitalized Veterans with an enjoyable outing during the Valentine's Day season with Veterans and the public invited to share in the festivities.
"It was a really good time," said Veteran and VA volunteer James Jones. "It brought me back to the day when we were in the field and would have entertainment from the USO."
Jones, 65, remembered seeing Little Anthony and the Imperials in concert when he was a kid. "The music was great for a sing-along and it's always nice to have that participatory capacity in the crowd."
Little Anthony and the Imperials sang, "Tears on My Pillow," and other familiar songs from the 1950s and '60s.
|Patricia Shinseki, wife of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, gives a carnation to a Veteran attending the Baltimore Valentines for Veterans concert. Photo: VA Maryland Health Care System.|
Inpatients Get Out
"The Valentines for Veterans Concert is a wonderful opportunity for local community members to come together and show their appreciation for the dedicated men and women who served our country in uniform," said Dennis H. Smith, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System.
Two hundred hospitalized Veterans from VA inpatient facilities around Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., were escorted to the auditorium for the afternoon of musical entertainment. In total, 2,000 people attended the concert.
"I think it's a perfect thing to take Veterans out of the hospital and into the community so they can enjoy themselves," said Ann Adair, a Veteran attendee. Adair was a participant in the Tell-A-Vet campaign, an additional feature of the event aimed at spreading the word to Veterans about VA services.
"The whole program is about recognizing Veterans," said David Edwards, Chief of Public and Community Relations at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.
The Baltimore VA had a full list of activities in store for their Veteran audience. Attendees received a red carnation and a chance to meet and pose with special guests, Miss Maryland and Miss Teen Maryland.
Along with Rock and Roll legends and beauty queens, the emcee, James Reynolds, is an Emmy nominated actor best known for his role in "Days of Our Lives." A military Veteran himself, Reynolds hosted the event with local Baltimore TV news anchor Jennifer Gilbert.
Patricia Shinseki, wife of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, was also present at the event. She volunteered as a greeter and handed out carnations to the crowd.
|Little Anthony and the Imperials sign autographs for hospitalized Veterans at the Valentine's Day concert. Photo: VA Maryland Health Care System.|
Offering More than Music
In addition to thanking and honoring Veterans, the concert served as an opportunity to recruit volunteers at VA facilities and provide information resources for Veterans unfamiliar with VA services.
Before and after the concert, the lobby was full of volunteers eager to help Veterans with VA healthcare and enrollment information.
"The atmosphere was so positive. When you walked in the door, people were greeted by all sorts of employees and volunteers," said Adair.
The event provided a successful way to share information. "A lot of people expressed interest in VA volunteering and a lot of Veterans who were not receiving VA healthcare signed up to receive additional information," reported Edwards.
James Jones has volunteered at the Baltimore VA for nearly three years, working as a patient escort. "After I found out I could volunteer in a capacity that suited my interests, I took the opportunity to join the volunteer program," said Jones.
"If you can understand and appreciate giving, you're a volunteer already. You just need to step forward to where help is needed," he added.
By Megan Tyson, VA Staff Writer