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T-post Tom
03-28-2009, 07:35 PM
USO Honors Franken, War Heroes
March 27, 2009
Military.com|by Bryan Mitchell

ARLINGTON, Va. – One of the country's most outspoken liberal commentators and a vocal Iraq war critic was honored earlier this week for his years of dedicated volunteering with the United Service Organizations.

"I think there is a good message to it," comedian and commentator-turned-politician Al Franken told Military.com of being honored by the USO. "They know even the people who have problems with the way we've done the war or the way we went to war, still support them. I think that tells them that everyone supports them. I think that's really important for them to understand.”

Franken, who is awaiting a federal court decision on whether he will assume a contested Minnesota Senate seat from November's election, was part of star-studded event Wednesday evening at the Pentagon City Ritz-Carlton meant to honor the troops and those who support them.

Franken recalled a performance in Kabul in explaining why he devotes so much of his time traveling the globe entertaining the men and women in uniform.

"It was like 28 degrees and everyone was standing for four hours and at the end of the show the Army band played that Toby Keith song ‘American Soldier',"Franken said.

"I remember watching the men and women hugging each other and some of them crying and some of them grinning and everyone swaying back and forth. And it was a quintessential moment for why I do this.”

Oscar-winning actress Renee Zelwegger and 2009 Miss America Katie Stam joined dozens of troops from across the services, as well as heroes from generations gone by, as part of the Metro USO's annual awards dinner.

Thirty-one of the 98 living Medal of Honor recipients were on hand as were five service members serving today who were recognized for their dedication to the country.

"It's very humbling to come to events like this,"Stam told Military.com 30 minutes before belting out a stirring rendition of the National Anthem. "It makes you feel so blessed for what we have and for the amazing troops that we have and their belief in our freedom.”

But the event was about far more than former Saturday Night Live stars and 22-year-old beauty queens.

The USO also honored Sergeant 1st Class Carlo DePorto, who fought in World War II, Vietnam and Korea, and who has volunteered with the USO for 41 years. DePorto received the Col. John Gioia Patriot Award.

Clad in his olive-drab World War II uniform, DePorto received an extended standing ovation from the scores on hand, but refused the title so many bestowed upon him.

"There are no heroes here,"DePorto told Military.com before receiving the award. "All the real heroes are in Arlington (National Cemetery) and military cemeteries all over this country. They are the ones we should remember as heroes.”

Sammy Davis, recognized as the real Forest Gump, spoke as black-and-white television footage of him receiving the Medal of Honor was run; he also yielded to this generation's bravest.

"This military that we have today is the best we've ever had,"Davis said. "Sure, we did it pretty good in my day, and my pappy did it pretty good in his day, but these men and women today are as good as this country has ever had. We can't forget that for a minute.”

The USO recognized five of those men at the gala, including:

- Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Barrows, who received the Bronze Star for his role in the Coast Guard's 2003 deployment to the Persian Gulf, the service's first wartime deployment since Vietnam.

- Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Luis E. Fonseca, who received the Navy Cross for his April 2003 rescue of a group of Marines from a burning vehicle in Iraq.

- Marine Staff Sgt. Joseph Perez, who received the Navy Cross for his charge against an Iraqi position during an April 2003 battle.

- Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Waiters, who received the Distinguished Service Cross for fighting off a group of Iraqi insurgents in April 2007 to rescue a group of Soldiers from a burning vehicle.

- Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Rhyner, who recently received the Air Force Cross for calling in air strikes last year in Afghanistan while wounded, after a group of Special Forces and Afghan troops were ambushed by more than 200 fighters.

All five were showered with heartfelt congratulations and messages of appreciation throughout the night, but none of the five appeared wiling to set himself apart from their brothers-in-arms.

"When you are here with all these guys (Medal of Honors recipients) you just feel like you are sitting on the sidelines and you feel like 'I really haven't done anything,' "said Perez.

There's reason to believe this won't be the last we hear from those honored by the USO.

"I'm always looking to get back in the fight,"Perez said when asked about his future plans.