VA honors veterans with special events

Danville Barbershop Chorus quartet Four on the Floor entertains veterans Tuesday at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care Center. From left to right are director Marty Lindvahl, Bob Boesdorfer, Mike Westfall and Wes Bieritz.

DANVILLE — One man waved an invisible baton. Another tapped his foot and mouthed the words to the classic songs. Others simply smiled.

However they responded, the men and women at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System enjoyed performances Tuesday by the Danville Barbershop Chorus quartet, Four on the Floor. The quartet sang a few songs at Valor House and Honor House, both in the Veterans Village, and also at the VA’s main building.

“It’s a joy for us,” said Wes Bieritz, a quartet member and a 50-plus-year member of the Barbershop Chorus. “We try to make people’s lives better with vocal singing.”

Music brings people together, and those who are able will sing along, Bieritz said. The music uplifts their spirits and brings back memories, even for those are uncommunicative or who have dementia.

The barbershop visit was part of the National Salute to Veteran Patients, which started Sunday and concludes Saturday. The special week by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs honors hospitalized veterans, increases community awareness of the VA’s role, and encourages people to visit, volunteer or donate to local VA facilities.

The week started with the barbershoppers on Tuesday and a veteran talent show on Wednesday. At 2 p.m. today, Mel Hoaks will perform in the Social Activities Room, and at 2 p.m. Friday, University of Illinois football players will visit with inpatients at the Danville VA.

Like every year, the veterans will receive cards made by local students.

Melissa Spady, acting public affairs officer, said, “We honor our veterans every single day.” But the special week gives the VA a chance to increase volunteerism and make the community aware of the VA’s role.

“We have a robust voluntary service here,” she said. “We encourage the community to come in and spend time with the veterans. It means so much to the veterans.”

Even a program as simple as a quartet singing to the veterans touches them.

For veteran Orlando Rodriguez, the performance stirred up memories of his days as an opera singer and a music student.

“Music was the greatest part of my life,” he said, recalling his years as music major in college in Texas. He had a tenor voice, but exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War ruined his voice, the Marine said.

“If I could, I would (sing),” he said.

While the Barbershop Chorus quartet was singing, Rodriguez waved his hands as if directing them. He also mouthed the words to the classic barbershop songs.

When the quartet finished “Down Our Way,” Rodriguez exclaimed, “Oh, gorgeous!”

He complimented Bieritz on his basso profundo, that is, his deep bass voice.

Bieritz explained to the veterans that the Barbershop Harmony Society now allows women singers, such as Marty Lindvahl, the chorus’ director. On Tuesday, she filled in as tenor for J.P. Calvin, who had foot surgery and was unable to perform.

Also performing were Bob Boesdorfer and Mike Westfall.

The four sang classics, such as “My Wild Irish Rose,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Sweet Adeline,” “Heart of My Heart,” and “Hello, Mary Lou.”

Bieritz said afterward, “We’re glad to be here. We’ll sing anytime anyplace.”

In a news release, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said, “VA values the contributions of our volunteers, donors and partners in helping us keep the promise to America’s veterans.

“These community resources confirm to our veterans that we are a nation that cares and remembers their sacrifices every day.”

Last year, schools, community groups and youth organizations nationwide sent more than 109,000 valentines to VA medical centers, and those cards were distributed to veteran patients at facilities across the country.

Also, more than 2,900 volunteers and 521 community organizations contributed to events and activities recognizing hospitalized veterans. Nationwide, more than 61,000 volunteers provide more than 9.2 million volunteer hours serving veterans.

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