John Mellencamp Rocks Walter Reed

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2007 - Popular rock musician John Mellencamp took to the stage at Walter Reed Army Medical Center April 27 and delivered his trademark Americana singing style as a tribute to the wounded soldiers who inspired him at the hospital.

The down-home singer-songwriter known for his bushy black hair and jeans-and-t-shirt performances said he wanted to do something for the soldiers recovering at Walter Reed. About 200 wounded soldiers, staff and family members attended the event, providing a small but energetic crowd.

In the hour-long performance, the Indiana-born-rocker, who became a star in the 1980s, performed many of his older hits such as his opener "Small Town," and "Little Pink Houses," as well as songs from his current Freedom's Road album. "Jack and Diane" was probably the most popular, bringing the crowd to its feet, rivaled only by the finale "Hurts So Good."

The stage was the historical Old Red Cross Building built in 1926 on Walter Reed's campus. Soldiers, families and staff sat on the hard wood floors or on chairs they brought, but they mostly stood and danced as Mellencamp performed. In the front, some waved a flag during parts of the performance. Toward the end, Mellencamp came off the stage to sing to front-row concertgoers.

Mellencamp opened by saying he hoped that everyone could forget about any problems they may have and have a good time. The concert provided a respite for soldiers and their family members recovering at the center.

Army 1st Lt. Josh Mantz arrived at Walter Reed less than a week ago, after being wounded in Iraq. Mantz attended the concert with his fiance, Justina Hollenbach, and best friend, Jesse Scholl. All three are Mellencamp fans.

"It's just awesome what he is doing," said Mantz. "It took a lot of stress off of them [Hollenbach and Scholl]. It kind of let them forget about the stress they've had the past few days worrying about me.

"It takes a lot of stress off the soldiers, a lot of stress off of the families. It's a nice little break. It can be a real sad place without people like John who lighten things up a little bit," he said.

An outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, Mellencamp steered clear of any political statement, choosing instead to emphasize his support to the troops. Mellencamp performed his hit "Our Country" at the opening of the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in January.

His publicist, Bob Merlis, said Mellencamp was impressed then by the attitudes of the soldiers recovering from severe wounds.

"He's very inspired by them. He was awestruck," Merlis said. "He said to me, 'I don't know if this happened to me that I'd have this really positive outlook like some of these guys do."

While at the center, Mellencamp visited with troops and even struck up an impromptu rendition of "Pink Houses" with a soldier who had a guitar.

Mellencamp earned a GRAMMY award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance in 1982 with "Hurts So Good" from his 1982 American Fool album.

[Web Version:]