Much of the music was drawn from the soundtrack of the Vietnam era in the '60s and early '70s, which was perfectly in keeping with yesterday's six-hour "Welcome Home" musical benefit at the Capital Centre for America's Vietnam veterans.
Not all of the arena's 20,000 seats were filled, and the official program started a little late, but by the time the show ended, the vets had enjoyed more support than they had seen since the "Welcome Home" parade in New York two years ago.
With a gigantic American flag in the background, the musical heroes and heroines of the '60s and '70s sang now-classic songs and asked for donations for Vietnam veterans.
Performers included some who had sung out against the war, such as Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Kris Kristofferson. Others who took the stage, such as James Brown, had once entertained the troops in Vietnam.
Still others, such as Anita Baker and James Ingram, representated a new generation helping to pay a belated tribute. For the moment at least, the divisive war that officially ended for U.S. troops a decade and a half ago unified the generations.
"This gesture is long overdue," said actor and emcee Jon Voight just before the star-studded concert got under way, "to reach out . . . and say we care for you guys."
"You don't have to support the war in Vietnam to support the people who had to fight," added singer Kristofferson offstage. "They were just instruments of our will -- our arms and legs -- and they paid our dues. In ignoring the sacrifice that they made, we've also tried to ignore the lessons."
The concert was organized by Welcome Home Inc., a nonprofit group formed in 1985 "to raise awareness of the sacrifices of soldiers in Vietnam" and to raise funds for veterans groups.
"This is a celebration of today and a look towards the future, not a re-creation of an era," said Joey Talley, a West Coast writer and president of Welcome Home, who organized the concert with actor Peter Fonda.
Funds raised from ticket sales and a 24-hour nationwide toll-free number will be distributed to groups offering assistance to homeless veterans, legal services, employment and counseling for veterans and their families.
The concert, which was being taped for cablecast on HBO last night, kicked off officially with Neil Diamond's "America." He was followed by the Four Tops, who delighted the crowd with songs such as "Baby I Need Your Loving" and "Reach Out I'll Be There."
A poignant moment came when Stevie Wonder offered a searing rendition of Bob Dylan's antiwar classic "Blowin' in the Wind." He also sang "I Just Called to Say I Love You," which seemed appropriate.
Wonder, who performs with recorded tapes, said that the evening was a continuation of the spirit that led to the establishment of the Martin Luther King holiday. "But the only healing that can happen -- to heal the wounds and the pain and the losses -- is the promise we must all make, the commitment to do all that we can to guarantee that we will never have to fight wars again."
Some songs specifically addressed the plight of Vietnam veterans including John Sebastian's "Taps," Wonder's "Front Line" and veteran Jim Wachctendon's "Hurting More," which is about his and his children's suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.
John Fogerty unexpectedly ended his boycott of Credence Clearwater Revival classics, a gesture that brought the evening to an emotional and musical peak. Fogerty had not done the songs for 13 years because of a bitter legal battle with the owner of the copyrights, Saul Zantz of Fantasy records.
"It was time to start healing, to work that feeling out of me personally," he said backstage. "Well, there's a lot of guys whose head is still in the jungle, walking around these last 20 years. They won't shake it, they won't let go. You have to let go of it . . . . "
Among the songs that Fogerty performed were "Born on the Bayou," "Willie and the Poor Boys," and a number of songs that were anthems of the era: "Who'll Stop the Rain," "Fortunate Son," "Bad Moon Rising" and "Proud Mary," the show's finale, for which all the musicians assembled on stage.
Also performing during the evening: Linda Ronstadt, who did Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A." and, in a duet with James Ingram, "Somewhere Out There"; Richie Havens, who did a duet of "Handsome Johnny" with actor Louis Gossett Jr.; Crosby, Stills and Nash doing a medley of their songs, including "Nighttime for the Generals," "Soldiers of Peace" and one of the '60s most enduring protest songs, "For What It's Worth." Veteran Blake Clark, now a comedian, contributed a stand-up routine based on his experiences during the war.
Speakers, many of them veterans of the war, included Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.); former Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Rocky Bleier; actor Ricardo Montalban and his son Mark, who was a medic in Vietnam..
Poet Steve Mason, a Vietnam veteran, presented an eloquent excerpt from his extended work "The Wall Within," invoking the rapture and loss that seemed at the heart of the evening.
For Voight, "Welcome Home" was a thank you, and a beginning: "We have to know that this responsibility, once addressed, gives us something, makes us healthy. These are our children, our brothers, our family. We just don't abandon our own. We must take care of our family, and there can never be an end to that commitment to them and to our children."