JOPLIN, Mo. —
I cried during the veterans tribute recently at the Hamner-Barber Variety Theatre in Branson.
Dave Hamner and Jim Barber's variety show is filled with magic, music, ventriloquism and, near the end of the show, a veterans tribute like none I had seen before. It brought me to tears and raised the Branson veterans tribute bar for me.
Near the end of the show a giant screen drops from above the stage and a video starts playing. Three World War II veterans began telling their stirring war stories. The three tell their personal tales of raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. They watched as their friends and shipmates died around them under Japanese fire and shelling.
One of the world's best known and recognizable photos captures five U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman planting Old Glory following a bloody battle for the island. Only the three survive.
A sculpture based on the famous Joe Rosenthal photo is the center piece of the Marine Corps War Memorial near Washington, D.C. The three men featured in the video are accompanied in song by Barber and Hamner. Again, it made me and a good part of the audience weep.
I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone. Just know Hamner and Barber's tribute will make any American proud of our servicemen and servicewomen's sacrifices.
The power of the show's tribute was made even more important with Armed Forces Day just around the corner. Many Branson shows and attractions have big plans to celebrate the occasion.
All that to say this: I see a lot of shows in Branson. While the 100 or more shows offered at Branson's 50-plus theaters each provide a wide variety of entertainment options, there is a single moment during most if not all of the shows that binds them together.
Near the end of most shows, the theater house lights are raised and members and veterans of America's Armed Forces are asked to stand and be recognized for their service to our country. No doubt, Branson shows and audiences love their warriors, past and present.
For years, just seeing the veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam stand made me proud to have served in the U.S. Navy myself. My grandpa at 19 parachuted into the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, taking enemy fire. Panels were ripped from his chute and he plummeted to the Belgian battleground below. He carried a metal reminder of that mission in his leg until the day he died, a little more than a year ago.
Many of those WWII soldiers and sailors, WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Service) and WACs (Women's Army Corps) are well into their 90s. Veterans of the Korean conflict and Vietnam are not spring chickens either, but just as deserving of a hand. There are few of them left, and they deserve all the recognition we can offer.
Lately, I see many younger veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan shyly stand for deserved accolades, too.
I never stand. Even when my grandma elbows me in the ribs and asks why I don't stand up, I always tell her the same thing: Those folks are in a different class of veteran than me. The closest I ever came to battle in my military career was dodging flying beer bottles during a couple of bar fights on a naval base in Panama. Hardly a heroic contribution to America's freedom.
Courtesy of ExploreBranson.com, here is a lineup of a few of Branson's Armed Forces Day features.
Thursday, May 16
~ Showboat Branson Belle "Special Armed Forces Day Salute." Boarding begins at 3:15 p.m. for the 4 p.m. Table Rock Lake cruise.
Details: 1-800-417-7770. Ask for the special rate.
Friday, May 17
~ Veterans Memorial Museum, 11 a.m., 1250 West Highway 76 Country Blvd. Meet and greet on the strip. Free hot dogs and drinks, book signing and meet a special guest from China Beach television series. Register to win a Branson vacation package for Veterans Week 2013.
~ Hughes Brothers Theatre, 6:30 p.m., 3425 West 76 Country Blvd. Rolling Thunder Missouri Chapter 1 is holding the "Thunderation Celebration" with a silent auction at 6:30 p.m. and show at 7:30 p.m. starring Brad Stine, known as God's Comic. Additional performances by the Hughes Brothers with Jason Yeager and Casey Dodd are scheduled.
Tickets are $35 per person. Call the Hughes Brothers Theater for reservations.
Saturday, May 18
~ Armed Forces Day Parade at Branson Landing (weather permitting). Line up at 10 a.m. at Belk's parking lot for the 11 a.m. parade on Branson Landing. Open to the public. Veterans and those who are active duty and their families are invited. Call 417-243-2117 for parade information.
~ 53rd Plumb Nellie Days Arts and Crafts Festival, 12:30 p.m., Historic Downtown Branson. Go to www.downtownbranson.org or call 417-314-1548 for celebration information.
~ Seventh annual Pig Roast and Casino Night, Lions Club Building, 1015 East 76 Country Music Blvd. Dinner from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. with games following. $20 per person includes $10,000 in "Funny Money" for a silent auction, which benefits veterans assistance. For more information call 417-294-0728.
Sunday, May 19
~ Clay Cooper Theatre, 8 p.m., 3216 West 76 Country Blvd. A special Armed Forces Day weekend show with Clay Cooper's Country Express. Call 417-337-7123 for show and ticket information.
Monday, May 20
~ Hamner-Barber Theater, 3044 Shepherd of the Hills Parkway, 10th Annual Veterans Assistance Benefit Show. Pre-show at 6:30 p.m.; show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets: $10 for adults; $5 for children. Entertainment will be provided by local entertainers. There will be a silent auction with 80 percent of proceeds benefiting Southwest Missouri military personnel and their families. Call 417-334-4363 for show and ticket information.