Military veterans are often honored for their service and remembered on traditional holidays: Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor Day and Veterans Day. But throughout the year, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum pays tribute to those who served through educational and active community programs dedicated to honoring service and continued healing for veterans living with the invisible wounds of war.
This year’s Salute to Freedom Gala at New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on Nov. 10 will honor five service members and families, as well as Jon Bon Jovi and iHeartMedia chairman and CEO Bob Pittman, whose commitments to supporting military members shine a light on those who serve.
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Bon Jovi will be honored with the 2021 Intrepid Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and his efforts combating food insecurity and veteran homelessness.
Pittman’s continuing dedication to the military through iHeartradio’s Show Your Stripes initiative will be front and center as he receives the Intrepid Salute Award. Prince Harry, who is a veteran of the British military, will be on hand to present to the awards.
When Bon Jovi chose to film the video for his song “Do What You Can” on the flight deck of the Intrepid, museum president Susan Marenoff-Zausner says the exposure for the museum, which brings in over a million visitors a year but “like everybody else, was hurt by COVID,” was invaluable.
“It is fantastic when we have that kind of a partnership or that kind of an event and it brings in a new audience who might look at it and say, ‘Oh, it’s a history museum. We’ll get there one day.’ But when it gives us the ability to be able to speak to the good that we do, and it parallels with the good that the people who come on site also deliver, that’s pretty cool,” she says. “We’ve been very fortunate. And we’re going to continue to work to do these things in the future.”
Working side-by-side with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Marenoff-Zausner got to know about his philanthropic commitment to community service, be it through his JBJ Soul Kitchens in Red Bank and Toms River, N.J., and an additional restaurant on Rutgers campus in Newark, or building affordable homes in Philadelphia and his quiet efforts honoring those who serve in the military.
“He really is amazing,” she says. “The more I learned about and peeled the layers about his service and what he does to focus on community and giving back, not just to a general community, but also to the veteran community, it was truly heartwarming. … And so for us, we were familiarized with Jon more personally when he filmed his video on our flight deck, and he learned a little bit about the Intrepid as well.”
JBJ Soul Foundation provides grants to organizations assisting with new housing and support services to provide homeless veterans with a place of their own. Just this summer, the Soul Foundation came to the aid of Hoboken, N.J.’s, American Legion Post 107 and its nonprofit Veterans Center. The $100,000 grant will go toward 18 furnished housing units as well as providing services including physical and mental health care and employment opportunities for struggling veterans. In 2019, the JBJ Soul Foundation also contributed a $500,000 grant to complete the Walter Reed Veteran Apartments in Washington, D.C., aiding 77 previously homeless veterans.
“Between what he does working toward breaking the cycle of poverty, he also works to combat homelessness, and within that he is working to combat veterans homelessness,” she says. “We felt he was just incredibly appropriate for this award. That is something else what he does with the shelters for the veterans through his JBJ Soul Foundation and the JBJ Soul Kitchens feeding the in-need populations, which is just really tremendous.”
She adds: “We’ve learned that he does a lot of this in-person as well, and not everybody dedicates their time and their energy as directly as what we have learned about Jon Bon Jovi.”
Now in its ninth year, iHeartRadio’s Show Your Stripes is the largest public service initiative in the history of the company. The program is instrumental in helping veterans secure employment and other services once their tour of duty is complete.
“We realized that vets were coming home and then there were not jobs for them,” Pittman says. “Or there were jobs, and we just needed to match them. We actually put it together with a lot of big partners in doing it. We have more than 200,000 job applications. We had nearly 4,000 local and national businesses join the Show Your Stripes program. We had enormous participation, and a lot of jobs came of it.”
As the program grew, Pittman saw a need to expand the platform to accommodate the changing needs and challenges facing veterans. The program is consulting with various military and veteran advisers, including Col. David Sutherland, the co-founder and chairman of the Dixon Center for Military and Veteran Services, to realign and address some of the more pressing issues facing veterans today.
Beginning in November, the platform will launch a focus on wellness, including emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social and even spiritual wellness, to concentrate on the “totality of the returning vet,” Pittman says.
“We are evolving it and pushing it forward. We’ve done programs with the Air Force, and concerts and events for veterans. We’ll continue to do that.”
The national presence of iHeartRadio is instrumental to the success of the program, Pittman notes.
“We’re the only radio company with true national reach,” he says. “We own stations in 160 markets, not including the affiliates that we add on top. For every market we’re in, we’re licensed by the federal government to serve the community. And we actually take that really seriously, especially in this day in which people are talking about trust and [questioning] people’s motives. Ours is real clear — serve the community. And we spend time in each community looking at individual needs and the communities. Every community has veterans and every community has this need. And that’s when we really pull the power of iHeart together to really make it work.”
The museum can offer a panoply of programs for veterans and their families because of generous donations while the Salute to Freedom Gala is its biggest fundraising event.
“There aren’t many places in the Northeast region where people can convene and share experiences and understand they’re not alone in this,” Marenoff-Zausner says. “And that’s half the healing. When you understand that you’re not isolated on some island not knowing where to turn.”
While the gala typically is held during Fleet Week in May, it was pushed to November due to COVID.
Still, being able to hold the event close to Nov. 11 will give military veterans and former crew members of the Intrepid a chance to be honored and recognized.
This will be highlighted when Prince Harry — who was awarded the Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan after his service in the British Army — presents the Intrepid Valour Awards.
Prince Harry and Bon Jovi also have a connection honoring vets, with Bon Jovi recording a special version of his song “Unbroken” for the duke’s Invictus Games in which wounded veterans compete in sports at the highest level.
The song was included in the film “To Be of Service,” which focused on veterans dealing with PTSD and the service dogs that help them cope.
“[Prince Harry] is not receiving an award, but instead is giving awards and that was very important to him to be able to provide the awareness of who the award recipients are — those who have suffered with PTS,” Marenoff-Zausner says.
Adds Pittman: “These people put their life on the line, the ultimate service. And we can’t do enough for them.”
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