More than 40 years after Linda Sullivan Schulte served in Vietnam, she received her first public "thank you" - in spectacular style. Schulte answered a call put out to veterans' groups around the country to be part of the Kennedy Center Honors with no clue that she would eventually find herself, along with 39 other Vietnam veterans, singing backup for Garth Brooks at the famed celebration of the arts. The event was broadcast nationally Dec. 29 on CBS.
Schulte served in Vietnam as part of a USO program contracted through the Red Cross. During her one-year stint, she said she logged about 1,500 miles per week via helicopter boosting the morale of the troops. She lifted their spirits by dancing, singing, playing games, reading mail and just talking with the soldiers.
The Vietnam veterans that Schulte sang with were from all branches and ranks.
"They didn't pick us for our singing," said Schulte.
Together they belted out the chorus to "Goodnight Saigon," which Brooks sang as part of the tribute to Billy Joel, the singer/songwriter who penned it. The refrains of the lines "we would all go down together" brought an emotional response from the audience full of celebrities and politicians, including President and Mrs. Obama.
Schulte said the producers of the Kennedy Center Honors take great pains to surprise the honorees with the planned tributes. She said the response from the star-studded audience to the performance was "the most amazing thing."
She met many celebrities, who were all very gracious, she said. But what touched her most was the simple sentiment - "thank you" - which she heard again and again.
To her knowledge, she said, the event was the first time ever an official, public "welcome home" was expressed for veterans of Vietnam.
"Vietnam veterans are the only group of soldiers never welcomed home with open arms," said Schulte. "They were spit on because the war was so unpopular."
She said it was a privilege to be part of the group accepting the nation's thanks on behalf of all those who served in Vietnam.
After her service in Vietnam, Schulte went on to become a public relations professional and has since retired in Westminster.
Billy Joel was one of five entertainers honored by the Kennedy Center in 2013. The others were opera singer Martina Arroyo; pianist, keyboardist, bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock; actress Shirley MacLaine; and musician and songwriter Carlos Santana.
The event included appearances by Tony Bennett, Buddy Guy, Don Henley, Harry Belafonte, Steve Winwood, Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, Terence Blanchard, Chick Corea, Marcus Miller, Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike, Snoop Dogg, Rufus Wainwright and others.