It was all for the troops — Christmas cheer for those dedicated Americans who put their lives on the line every single day for this country and our freedoms. And the impact of these “gifts” will carry well through Christmas Day and into the new year.
First, the Dwayne Johnson-hosted “Rock the Troops” event aired Tuesday night on Spike, VH1, and Comedy Central. The two-hour special was a gathering of celebrities to entertain and honor a crowd of 40,000 troops and military families gathered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
The following night, WWE aired its annual “Tribute to the Troops” special, saluting servicemen and women in similar fashion. These and other events celebrating our veterans during the holiday season were and are a wonderful change of pace from entertainers.
“I come from a military family, a family of proud Navy SEALs, and it’s important to me and everyone here to give back to you guys,” said Johnson at the beginning of the “Rock the Troops” special. The very appearance of the “Ballers” star and former wrestler sent the crowd into a “USA! USA!” chant.
Musical guests throughout the night included Flo Rida, Nick Jonas, Katharine McPhee, Tenacious D, Prince Royce, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Aaron Lewis. It was not the typical gathering of celebrities — patriotism was worn proudly on everyone’s sleeve.
Lewis opened his act with the Pledge of Allegiance, and Tenacious D’s Jack Black held an American flag throughout his performance.
The actors who showed up to thank the troops, as well as introduce musical acts, were varied: Matthew McConaughey, Scott Eastwood, Marine veteran and actor Rob Riggle, Terry Crews, and Keegan-Michael Key.
“As my son says, ‘I like the troops, Papa, because they protect the country so we can have a country.’ To that I say, ‘All right, all right, all right,'” McConaughey told the crowd, poking fun at his famous “Dazed and Confused” line.
The “True Detective” actor paid respects to Kraig M. Vickers, a fallen soldier and Navy chief explosive ordnance disposal technician, and acknowledged all Gold Star families by bringing out Vickers’ surviving family members after a video remembering the fallen hero.
Filmed messages were provided by George Clooney, Melissa McCarthy, and Chris Pratt, who all thanked our troops serving overseas, away from their families for the holidays. Each actor introduced a separate soldier who is serving our country and unable to be with loved ones.
The highlights of the night included the marriage of two soldiers on stage — Air Force Staff Sergeant Korey A. Hitchens and his Marine fiancée and now-wife, Emily Telesca — with comedian Kevin Hart officiating.
Comedian Jeff Ross and Johnson held a “roast off,” and famous surfer Laird Hamilton showed via a video the merits of a foundation working to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder through the sport of surfing, called VOW (Veterans Operation Wellness).
Johnson made sure to honor the history of the place he was standing in by bringing out two surviving heroes from the events of Pearl Harbor — Herb Weatherwax, 99 years old, and Alfred Rodrigues, 96. (The event was filmed, and since then, Weatherwax has unfortunately passed on.)
The “Fast and Furious” actor also poked fun at his public comments about running for president in 2020 by mockingly announcing his candidacy from a podium. Regarding the experience that would prepare him to be commander-in-chief, he said, “I have defeated Cobra commandos” and “I punched an earthquake right in the face.”
He continued, “I expect to win in a landslide … a landslide where I save a family of five and their dog in epic slow motion.” The actor even jokingly took a shot at the birther movement by saying, “Birthers, don’t even try any of your nonsense. I have my birth certificate right here,” at which point the California-born performer’s birth certificate was displayed on a giant screen.
He called soldiers the “backbone of our democracy” and promised them, “All your Humvees will have bulletproof glass and Sirius radio,” and MRES (meals ready to eat) will contain more “Funyuns and Frankenberry cereal.”
Actor Keegan-Michael Key informed him of the president’s pay — and Johnson smiled and said, “I’ll take the pay cut.”
After a performance by Johnson himself that honored Army veteran and king of rock ‘n’ roll Elvis Presley — the actor actually sang a mashup of Presley hits — the show closed with all of the celebrity talent dedicating a rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to those troops unable to be with their families this holiday season.
“Their courage and their commitment, their excellence — it’s so inspiring.”
On the other side of the coin, Johnson’s former employer, WWE, then held its annual “Tribute to the Troops” show the following night. In the past, the wrestling company has gone overseas to visit troops as well as hold shows on military bases. The Wednesday night event was the 14th “Tribute to the Troops” special and was filmed at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
The program is dedicated to veterans and military. A portion of audience seats are given to military personnel and wrestlers interact and take pictures with soldiers, even visiting wounded warriors at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland.
Popular wrestler Big Show is a regular at the annual event and told ESPN before the latest “Tribute to the Troops” how important the event is to him as an entertainer: “It just puts everything in perspective. I brighten their day. I interact with them. Just their courage and their commitment, their excellence — it’s so inspiring. These guys are really out there putting freedom forward and putting life and limb on the line for me to enjoy the things that I enjoy.”
The shows were a refreshing “thank you” to the troops — and a wonderful use of celebrity time and talent. More events like these would benefit everyone.