Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jim Beam and Kid Rock

Ok, I really never expected to blog about these two in the same sentence.  But I just read a story, and to be honest….on this Robert Burns and State of the Union Night, it brought tears to my eyes and made me proud to be an American.

I know Jim Beam always seems to be second fiddle to Jack Daniels as America’s Whiskey.  Jack is everywhere.  When in Germany, bring a bottle of Jack to the host of a party was an immediate step up the social ladder.

Meanwhile, Kid Rock would probably not top anyone’s list of “Most Patriotic”.

Tonight, for me….that all changed.

I won’t spoil the article, but my hat is off to Jim Beam (now Number 1 in my book for Bourbon) and to Kid Rock (for his USO support….he’s definitely moved up, but could never top Shane in my book).  Thanks to both and to these fine veterans who did their country proud.

PS- To you 501st’ers….when’s our reunion?

Vietnam vets to reunite for first time in 43 years, thanks to Jim Beam, Kid Rock


Even though they’re not familiar with his songs, I hope the Vietnam vets attending the Kid Rock concert Tuesday night at Van Andel Arena receive an acknowledgment from the star of the show — and maybe a few of the fans at the sold-out event.

It’s been more than 40 years in the making.

To understand the significance of what is happening Tuesday, we need to go back to the mid 1960s, when Grand Rapids resident Rick Falls joined a handful of other teenage and 20-something soldiers from around the country to fight an unpopular war in jungles on the other side of the world.

They returned to their homeland only to be shunned by some, dismissed as baby killers by others, and left to wonder what had been gained by the loss of 58,000 American lives.

In the absence of parades and motorcades, the troops simply tramped home and did their best to be re-absorbed by a country still flustered over the role we played in that foreign country.

But on Tuesday, Kid Rock — a passionate supporter of our troops and veterans — could take a moment between songs to reverse some of that and give a handful of Army vets goosebumps that might never recede.

Rick Falls and three or four of his buddies who haven’t been together since 1968, will be attending the show thanks to the folks at Beam Global Spirits and Wine Inc., best known for its bourbon Jim Beam.

The unusual arrangement is largely Martin Kruming’s doing.

Kruming served alongside Falls while in Nam and discovered several week ago from his home in San Diego the Beam team had an especially soft spot for the military — and a close working relationship with Kid Rock.

So he wrote a letter to Beam’s CEO, explaining how he and Falls and others were planning a reunion in Grand Rapids this week.

Voila! — Beam President and CEO Matthew J. Shattock personally shipped enough VIP tickets to make the reunion more special than any of the former members of the U.S Army’s 45th Engineering Group might have imagined.

“We are … thrilled to have such a strong relationship with Kid Rock, who is as passionate about the military as anyone,” Shattock said in his letter to Kruming.

And there, in the folds of the envelope, were five passes you can’t buy at a counter or buy online.

Originally, Falls, 69, hung out with six others who comprised a tight-knit group in Vietnam. He lost track of two, but stayed in touch with the other four — Fred Lemley, 67, of Joplin, Mo.; Dave Hurst, 68, of Baltimore; Kruming, 67; and Gary Hutchison, 68, who calls Battle Creek home but spends winters in Arizona.

Lemley will likely pass on the reunion because he is expecting a grandchild any day now. He calls Beam’s gift “a wonderful gesture.”

Hutchison is probably going to stay in Arizona. He has seen Falls many times since their return to the states because they’re but an hour or so apart in better weather. Still, he wishes he could make the trip: “These are people that basically you relied on in a war zone,” he says. “They become your fast friends, and that’s hard to take away, even if you haven’t seen each other in years.”

Hurst hoped to arrive in Grand Rapids today. He was bunkmates with Falls and worked under Kruming as a public affairs reporter, writing stories about their engineering group and related topics.

He went on to work at Illinois newspapers before signing on in the public relations department with State Farm Insurance, from which he retired eight years ago.

He has fond recall of how Falls engaged the people of Vietnam — learned their language and worked hard to provide ice cream and gifts to the children there. Some evenings, Hurst listened with his buddies to Bill Cosby tapes — a luxury and antidote to the time and place to which they were committed.

Kruming was the only officer among the group; he was in charge of amassing and editing stories in Nam, and Falls served as his driver. He came home to work a while for the Associated Press and became a lawyer in 1979. He still practices in his hometown of San Diego.

Falls, who lives with wife Maxine on Brownwood Avenue NW, returned home to teach guitar, play in a band, record music — and work 23 years for Michigan Bell, now Ameritech.

Amanda Loman | The Grand Rapids PressRick Falls holds the five Kid Rock tickets given to him.

Despite his musical background, he doesn’t know any Kid Rock songs. Neither do Lemley or Hutchison — nor does Hurst, who said he would have been just as happy to attend “Shrek the Musical.”

Like the others gathering here Tuesday, Kruming said the Kid Rock concert will be “the icing on the cake,” with the reunion taking precedence.

He emphasized, though, how impressed he is with the artist’s big heart for vets, and that’s what motivated him to write Beam’s top brass. “I think nothing of writing CEOs, presidents, etc.,” Kruming said. “I think a handwritten letter is a powerful tool in this Internet world, and I’ve always subscribed to that.”

Falls says the bond among his friends is strong enough to sustain them against the lasting impression Vietnam left on some. “It was an unpopular war,” he said. “So our reward was meeting these fellows, developing life-long friendships.

“We’ve been trying to get together for 43 years. And, now, it’s finally happening.”


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