By Spc. Patrick A. Ziegler, U.S. Central Command, Public AffairsApril 16, 2007
Appreciate is a word with more than one definition but all of them seem to point in the same direction.
From Merriam Webster, "to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of," "to value or admire highly," "to judge with heightened perception or understanding: be fully aware of," "to recognize with gratitude."
On Friday, April 13 the legendary southern-rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd took some time to show their appreciation to some very special people. Two honored guests and a handful of Soldiers along with their spouses spent some time with the band for pictures and autographs prior to Skynyrd taking the stage of the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
Mrs. Birgit Smith and her son David, the wife and son of Tampa Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, accompanied by a dozen Army veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, were the band's backstage guests during the Rowdy Frynds Tour stop in Tampa.
Paul Smith made the ultimate sacrifice near Baghdad International Airport on April 4, 2003 and was posthumously awarded the highest decoration our country awards military service members, the Medal of Honor, by President George W. Bush in April 2005.
Perhaps too young to be familiar with Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Smith said "who'" when asked if he was a fan, but after the autograph and photo session added, "This is pretty cool."
Birgit Smith, a Soldier in her own right, was brimming with pride and smiling from ear to ear throughout the event. The only time she broke her smile is when she feigned aversion to David's desire to join ROTC. "Oh my gosh," she said as she pretended to pull at her hair. But she could not keep the pride and the smile held at bay for more than a second or two.
The appreciation started well before the show as Soldiers started arriving early and grabbing chairs at a local watering hole just across the street from the Forum. Folks passing by offered a word of thanks or would ask to show their gratitude by offering to buy a drink. It wasn't long before the establishment made it clear to the patrons in uniform that they where, "On the House."
Making their way through the arena, thank-you's, handshakes and hugs and kisses on the cheek were accepted by the service members and guests as they found their way to their seats or moved about the stadium.
The first set of the concert was the band 38-Special fronted by Donnie Van Zant, brother of Lynyrd Skynyrd's front man Johnny Van Zant. They where followed by American country and southern rock hero Hank Williams Jr.
Recent Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the night's headline act, was the grand finale of the evening. Skynyrd raised the roof with southern rock classics like "They Call Me The Breeze," "Give Me Three Steps," "Sweet Home Alabama" and the band's signature song "Free Bird."
Near the end of their set Johnny Van Zant tied Old Glory to his mike stand and told the crowd, "There are some military folks here tonight. I got to spend some time with them back stage before the show." He then asked his audience to give a big round of applause for those service members; a thundering ovation followed. Building on the crowd's enthusiasm, Van Zant added, "All I can tell you is that if you wear this country's uniform, Lynyrd Skynyrd is on your side." The crowd erupted again and then the band broke into their patriotic classic, "Red, White and Blue."
"My Daddy worked hard, and so have I, paid our taxes and gave our lives to serve this great country...Yeah we love our families, we love our kids you know it is love that makes us all so rich," said Van Zant.
Typically people serving in the United States military are a pretty humble bunch. They get up every day, put on the uniform and do their jobs. They get called away from home and spend months and years away from their families. Some give more than that. Never the less, they are typically humble, a proud bunch but humble nonetheless.
It is their appreciation for this great country of ours that drives them on and makes the sacrifices that much easier to swallow.
What does appreciation mean' Going out of our way to shake the hand of a stranger and thanking them for what they do or giving them a pat on the back or even a hug and a kiss on the cheek or perhaps making them feel like a rock star if only for a few moments.