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Veteran brings pride and patriotism to celebration

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By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

“He brought tears to my eyes and those of many others in the audience. But he did not sing only of sadness and loss. He sang also of pride of service, love of country, and joy of life,” wrote Bob Reilly, chapter secretary and treasurer of the National Reunion Chair after Chuck Lawrence performed at his Spokane event.

In each 30-minute to 2-hour performance, Lawrence, who goes by Sarge, speaks and sings from his heart and his experience. Like Reilly, those who have attended his performances say the Vietnam veteran from Lake Tapps brings tears to the eyes and makes the heart swell with pride.

“I love it. I have a blast doing it,” Lawrence said. “I love being on that stage and seeing the reaction in the faces of the audience.

“It's a good way to get people's attention and to educate them. Put it to music and people pay more attention.

“I don't want what happened to my generation to happen to his generation,” he said. “Our youth in our military today deserve respect and honor.”

Lawrence is a veteran of two tours of duty in Vietnam with the 4th Infantry Division and the 3/17th Air Calvary Squadron. He served in the Army from 1968 to 1981. While stationed in Germany with the 3rd Armored Division in the mid-1970s, his music and song became popular with German people and American soldiers stationed in the area.

After being discharged from the Army, Lawrence was concerned about the negative stereotyping of the Vietnam veterans. In the mid-1990s, he met Tennessean Jerry Hayes, who was making a unique statement in support of veterans through his music.

When the two met, Hayes was performing a musical tribute of songs he had written, called “Thanks to Them.” They became friends and, over time, Hayes convinced Lawrence to perform the tribute in this area.

“He gave me his music and said start performing out here,” Lawrence recalled.

Lawrence calls his musical celebration of the soldier “Pride of Service.” He said the music reminds people what it's like to be a veteran and places a focus on patriotism. It allows him to express pride and at the same time counter the negative stereotypes placed on Vietnam vets.

“It's designed to reach out and grab you,” he said.

Lawrence offers songs like “I Praise the Vet,” which honors those who have sacrificed everything for their country, and “I Can Still Remember,” which reflects a soldier's point of view following the loss of a friend. Also included are Hayes' title song “Thanks to Them,” a tribute to American military personnel past, present and future, “When I See Old Glory,” a reflection on what the flag means to a veteran and patriot, and “The Ballad of Barney,” which speaks of racial issues.

The tribute also often includes a series of well-known, popular patriotic songs.

Lawrence performs and speaks around the Pacific Northwest at veterans' functions, political and patriotic events, civic organizations and schools. He is currently not scheduled for a local Memorial Day performance, but will be performing at a marathon in Prosser in June dedicated to a fallen veteran from that area. He also is scheduled to perform in Auburn in November for the city's Veterans Day “Thanks to Them” tribute.

This summer, Lawrence and Hayes will team up and take their show to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of Armed Forces Entertainment. He looks forward to this adventure.

“Jerry and I remember how important it is to have homegrown entertainment while you're away,” Lawrence said. “It was really appreciated. It meant a lot and it was a great stress-reliever. It's a chance for us to go back and support a new generation.”

Lawrence doesn't charge for his programs, although he does accept donations to help cover the expenses of the cost and maintenance of the sound equipment. He performs as part of an outreach program for Vietnam Veterans of America Green River Chapter 690 out of Auburn.

“The message is more important than money,” Lawrence said.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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