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july/august 2007

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The Convention’s Opening Ceremonies

By Marc Leepson
A funny thing happened to Wes Guidry, VVA’s national meetings planner, last December. While attending the Nevada Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Reno, he ran into the legendary country music star Lee Greenwood. Guidry, not the shy and retiring type, walked right up to Greenwood, said hello, and then asked if he would be amenable to performing his mega-hit “God Bless the U.S.A.” at the Opening Ceremonies of VVA’s 13th National Convention in Springfield, Illinois, in July. Greenwood said he liked the idea but needed to check his schedule. An official letter went out the next day from VVA National President John Rowan. Early this spring came the official reply from Greenwood’s associate, Jerry Bentley, who happens to be a Vietnam veteran and a VVA member. Lee Greenwood would happily come to Springfield to sing his song, as well as the National Anthem, at the Wednesday morning, July 18, Opening Ceremonies. “It’s going to be a special treat for the delegates and guests at the Convention to hear Lee Greenwood,” Rowan said. “His song is world famous and will fit in extremely well with our always-spirited Opening Ceremonies.”

Lee Greenwood, who was born on a farm near Sacramento, California, formed his first band, the Moon-beams, in junior high school. He turned down a music scholarship at the College of the Pacific and the prospect of a professional baseball career to dive head long into the music business when he finished high school. He knocked around Los Angeles and Las Vegas for a few years before finding his first success in 1978 when he moved to Nashville to sign a recording contract. He soon began churning out country hits, including “It Turns Me Inside Out” and “Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands.”

Just two years after the release of his first album, he was named the Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year for the first of what would be three times. He also won a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal. In 1985, the CMA awarded him Song of the Year for writing the words and music that has made its way into the pantheon of American patriotic tunes: “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Lee Greenwood will receive the President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts at the Opening Ceremonies for that song and for his dedication to America’s veterans and military personnel. For decades Greenwood has made visits to military bases around the globe and has put on performances at functions such as Veterans Day ceremonies at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Most recently, on July 4, he took part in an official U.S. Citizenship Ceremony at Walt Disney World, during which more than a thousand immigrants from over fifty countries were sworn in as American citizens. That program ended, as one might guess, with Greenwood singing “God Bless the U.S.A.”

Joining Lee Greenwood at the Opening Ceremonies will be the big-selling country-rock music stars Big & Rich, who will perform their song “8th of November” (see p. 35), which pays tribute to Vietnam veterans. The Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, a Vietnam-era U.S. Army veteran, will deliver the Keynote Address.

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