This year, Home Box Office and Welcome Home Inc. decided that one Veterans Day was not enough. On Saturday, the two will join forces to make Independence Day another Veterans Day celebrating those whom America, until recently, has generally ignored: the men and women who fought in Vietnam.
"Welcome Home," a star-studded concert honoring Vietnam War veterans to be cablecast on HBO at 9 p.m. Saturday, will take place earlier that day at Capital Center in Landover, Md., near Washington. Proceeds from the concert will be distributed to veterans' groups around the country by Welcome Home Inc., a nonprofit veterans' support organization.
Musicians donating time for the four-hour concert include Linda Ronstadt, James Ingram, Neil Diamond, Kris Kristofferson, Stevie Wonder and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Spokesmen for the project are Jon Voight, Peter Fonda, John Ritter and Ricardo Montalban, who lost a son in the war.
"The concert is simply to give an encouraging word to those who made it back alive," said Ronstadt, who will perform some of her Vietnam-era hits as well as contemporary songs. "I just thought it would be nice if all of us got up there and said 'Welcome home,' unqualifiedly."
The event will be simulcast by MJI Broadcasting to 100 radio stations nationwide, including KLSX-FM (97.1) in Los Angeles.
In addition, the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners and other baseball teams have agreed to join Welcome Home Inc. in paying tribute to Vietnam veterans by having a vet throw out the first ball at their Fourth of July games, or with other types of acknowledgements. In Anaheim, the California Angels will acknowledge veterans with announcements on the message board and the public-address system.
"When all those kids went over there (to Vietnam), there was a lot of controversy over whether they should have been there or not, and I think the years have shown that they should not have been," Ronstadt said. "But the fact remains that they were made to go, and didn't get credit for it. To have everyone calling them murderers--that was horrifying. They weren't to blame; somebody else was to blame.
"I was at a gym the other day, one of those chi-chi places where soap-opera stars go to lose the six ounces off their thighs they gained eating sushi, and I heard this kid who was working there talking about 'Platoon.' And he said, 'You know, it makes running out of clean towels not seem very important.' And bless his heart, he was right. It woke him up."
"Welcome Home" is the second grand-scale fund-raising effort for Chris Albrecht, HBO's senior vice president of original programming. The first, "Comic Relief," raised money for the homeless in March, 1986. "This is not about combat; this is not about heroes," he said. "This is really more of a celebration rather than any kind of flag-waving."
Referring to the recent feature films "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket," which have fostered public sympathy for the Vietnam veteran, Albrecht added, "I think this project wouldn't have happened without the increased awareness and acceptance of Vietnam vets. I think a lot of things led up to this, but we're not acting after the fact. It's very much a part of what's going on."
Joey Talley, president and organizer of the 18-month-old Welcome Home Inc., said that she became involved in Vietnam issues when a veteran friend died at 34, allegedly due to complications from exposure to Agent Orange.
"We have had some nice monuments, and some nice films (acknowledging Vietnam vets)," she said. "But this (concert) is a 'people' thing; it's for the people of America to pay tribute on a national level to the Vietnam vets."
Albrecht said HBO sought a corporate sponsor for the concert but, unable to find one, decided to finance the production itself. None of the profits will go to pay HBO's expenses, he said.
"We don't need to raise anything--'Welcome Home' is free and clear," Albrecht said. "Of course, we'd like to raise as much as possible."
Albrecht said that the "Welcome Home" event was much more difficult to organize than "Comic Relief" because music is involved ("It's not as easy as having somebody stand up and tell a joke") and because the Vietnam issue remains highly politicized. Some veterans groups, including the Washington-based Vietnam Veterans of America, have expressed concerns about fund distribution, ticket sales and other issues.
"I have fears about (dissent)," Albrecht said. "There are, frankly, people who are gunning for this event. I just hope the spirit of this event is one in which these various groups can put their political concerns aside for an hour and say, 'Hey, this feels great.' "
The concert, originally booked into Washington's 52,000-seat RFK Stadium, suffered a setback when slower-than-expected ticket sales prompted organizers to move to the 20,000-seat Capital Centre. "This event is not about ticket sales," Albrecht said. "The most important thing is that we're being televised."
Viewers may make donations by dialing (800) USA-1987 during the telecast.