- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2000

Wayne Lee Miller, a wheelchair-bound Marine Corps veteran from Silver Spring, says singing has "given me back my self-respect."

Today, Mr. Miller will sing a solo for the final production number, "God Bless the USA," in a variety stage show for the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. The free show, with actors Jane Powell and Ernest Borgnine as masters of ceremony, is set for 2 p.m. at DAR Constitution Hall, 18th and D streets NW.

After the stage show, artists will exhibit their work in the lobby of Constitution Hall.

More than 100 national winners in music, dance, drama and art contests — open to those receiving medical treatment at Veterans Affairs facilities — arrived in Washington on Oct. 15. They spent the week in rehearsals and workshops in preparation for today's showcase.

Mr. Miller, who lost a leg in Vietnam on July 4, 1970, says he had wanted to perform onstage since he was a child. "When I was wounded in Vietnam, that kind of shattered that [dream]," he says.

"When I heard I had won the competition, my first feeling was of thankfulness that I was able to touch someone with my ability and not my disability," he says.

He had entered the festival contest for four years, and is thrilled with his gold medal and being able to participate in the show. "I get to do this at Constitution Hall. It's amazing," he says.

During the song, Mr. Miller will stand up on one leg and salute the audience.

Mr. Miller, 50, who counsels Vietnam veterans at the VA center in Silver Spring, notes that one of his daughters, Shannon Miller, 19, also just filmed an appearance on the TV show "Your Big Break," which will air in January.

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival features other examples of veterans' struggles and triumphs. Michael Cruse Sr., 51, of Fayetteville, Ark., served with the Navy in Vietnam in underwater demolition in 1966-67. He receives treatment at the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville for post-traumatic stress disorder; seizure disorder; nerve deterioration; and leg, back and neck impairments that require numerous operations.

Mr. Cruse paints delicate designs on porcelain china. According to show information, he has spent his life in isolation to avoid interactions that could trigger rage and frustration. Three years ago, he started the porcelain painting — even though his fingers cannot feel the brush they are holding.

His entry, which won special recognition, is called "Times Remembered."

The festival is sponsored by the VA and Help Hospitalized Veterans. More information can be found on the VA's Web site (www.va.gov).

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