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Franks stars in salute to troops

Gen. Tommy Franks whips up wild cheers to: "How 'bout that military that never quits?"

By KATHRYN WEXLER and CORY SCHOUTEN
Published June 12, 2003

TAMPA - There was Gov. Jeb Bush, country singer Charlie Daniels, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and even a Tampa Bay Buc or two.

But one person in particular brought down the house at the Freedom Concert at the St. Pete Times Forum Wednesday night.

"We love you, Tommy!" a woman yelled from a sea of red, white and blue-clad concertgoers, 10,444 strong.

Tommy, as everyone knew, was Gen. Tommy Franks.

The general pretended not to notice the scream, something usually reserved for a sweet-talking, country crooner in tight blue jeans. But his wife, Cathy, standing in a red dress behind him, let out a laugh.

Although the evening was billed as a country artists' tribute to those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, Franks ranked right up there with the stars, winning a standing ovation that even the governor didn't pull off.

"How 'bout them Tampa Bay Bucs?" Franks asked, in his distinctive Texas twang.

The audience cheered.

"How 'bout that Tampa Storm?" Franks said, referring to the arena football team that is set to play in the Arena Football League championship on June 22.

The crowd shouted back its approval.

"How 'bout that military that never quits?" Franks said. "That's you."

The throng went wild.

The event was exclusively for current and former U.S. servicemen and women and their guests. It was an evening steeped in American patriotism with praise for the United States, thanks to those who served, and a quiet, reverent tribute to those who died.

"We thank you from the bottom of our heart for what you have done to keep our freedoms intact," said Bush.

The names of 246 soldiers who died in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan rolled on giant screens by the stage. In the front row, Franks laid his hand on his heart. He wiped his eyes as he sat down. Some families of the deceased sat around him.

"I think it's wonderful they're doing this for the troops," said Kathryn Gates, who drove from her home in Winter Haven to wave a sign at country artist Darryl Worley. She said she hoped he would recognize her as a girl he knew from seventh grade in Savannah, Tenn. "I'm a Marine, I might add," said Gates, 45.

Kenny Rogers, whose name appeared first on the program, was a no-show. But other artists took the stage, much to the delight of the crowds, a mix of all generations.

Charlie Daniels performed his signature song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

"A few weeks ago I bet Saddam thought the devil came down to Iraq," he said, to the delight of the crowd.

Bucs player Joe Jurevicius took the stage and mentioned his boss. "John Gruden's got a great game plan," Jurevicius said. "But none of them compare to this man's," he said, gesturing to the general.

[Last modified June 12, 2003, 01:48:14]


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