- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna, celebrity chef Robert Irvine, singers Billy Corgan, Caleb Johnson and Beau Davidson and a spate of TNA Wrestling stars are among celebrities with a calling to salute the U.S. military - all on hand for the National Memorial Day Parade on Monday in the nation’s capital. Then there is Miss America Kira Kazantev, who will wave at the crowd as only Miss America can do.

“It is my responsibility to not only raise awareness about the military, our veterans, and their needs, but to thank them in person for their service. I am so honored to be a part of this celebration of our troops,” Ms. Kazantev tells The Washington Times.

But she is also the first Miss America since the 1970s who has stepped up for the USO and visited U.S. troops overseas - logging 25,400 miles last month with stops that included Afghanistan, Bahrain, the Korean DMZ and USS Carl Vinson. In her online diary of the events, she recounted meeting a Medal of Honor recipient who shared his memories of Vietnam, back in the day when a certain patriotic Hollywood stalwart would arrive with Miss America - creating a rare good moment in a tough combat zone.

“He said that Bob Hope would bring Miss America up on stage and say ‘Soldiers, this is what you’re fighting for.’ I still can’t believe that I am now a part of this legacy and that in my own way, I have had the honor of serving our country,” Ms. Kazantev wrote.

Bob Hope began his USO tours in 1941 - and they lasted until 1990. He brought along several Miss Americas, along with Raquel Welch, Ann Margaret, Joey Heatherton, and Jill St. John among many stars of the day.

“The satisfaction that comes from bringing a few hours of laughter and home to these men living such hard, dangerous lives is difficult to express. I don’t care how often you’ve seen the war on TV or read about it, you have no idea what it’s really like until you’ve felt the heat, tasted the dust, sloshed through the mud, and talked to the men, especially the wounded. Yet their morale is unbelievable; it gives you a lift just to be with them,” Hope once said of his experiences.

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