In an evening that paid tribute to heroes past and present, The Keene Sentinel, aided by myriad local sponsors, raised money for a Vermont-based organization that helps veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Everything about Thursday’s Duty Calls event, from the cheery big-band tunes onstage to the newsboys who hawked the evening’s program at the door of The Colonial Theatre, was reminiscent of the 1940s. There were men in old-fashioned suits, complete with suspenders, while women in crisp white nurses’ uniforms and caps sold raffle tickets.
Proceeds from the raffle, along with a portion of the ticket sales for the event, will support The Warrior Connection, a Putney, Vt., nonprofit group that helps an average of 50 to 100 veterans annually.
Founded in 2010, The Warrior Connection offers veterans free weeklong retreats that aim to help them deal with “invisible wounds” — combat trauma and emotional injuries they incurred through their service. During their time at the retreat, veterans learn to connect with their feelings, which enables them to better function, and return to civilian life, said Carol Scott, a board member for The Warrior Connection and clinical facilitator.
The average cost of working with one veteran is $2,500 to $3,000, according to Bob Tortolani, another board member, and The Warrior Connection sustains itself through donations. But the benefits of spending a week among supportive peers and processing the trauma of war, he said, last a lifetime.
“We’ve had amazing results,” Scott said. “People leave and can feel again, and that is the biggest thing people leave with. They say, ‘I actually genuinely laughed for the first time.’ “
As a crowd of at least 400 people filled the Colonial ahead of Thursday’s show, Gina De Santis, The Sentinel’s events manager, was getting ready in a dressing room in the basement. She had already put on part of a sailor’s costume and was getting her hair curled, while also ironing out some final details for the evening’s festivities. Someone had left a navy-blue skirt on her lap — the second part of the vintage-looking getup.
De Santis has relatives who served in the military and as first responders in her native New York City and elsewhere. She said she wanted to create an event that recognizes those who serve or have served in the armed forces or in police or fire departments, while also celebrating an iconic time in American history.
“It’s fun, and people love big-band music and they like the hair, the makeup — it was just a great time,” she said of the evening’s theme.
In true 1940s fashion, Duty Calls was a variety show that included performances by the Keene Jazz Orchestra, New Hampshire comedian Juston McKinney and Sinatra tunes sung by Josh Greenwald of Keene. Also getting in on the act were Bill Johnson, who impersonated legendary performer Bob Hope, and Tracey Borden, Pam Croteau, Els Dignitti and Meg Kupiec, who sang titles by The Andrews Sisters, a popular group from the era.
Even before the curtains rose, De Santis vowed to create a similar tribute every year.
“It may not be the same theme,” she said, “But the ‘Duty Calls’ mission of honoring the people that protect our community will definitely be something we repeat every year.”
The evening began with members of Keene’s police and fire departments presented the colors in the theater. Among those who spoke at the top of the show was Mitchell H. Greenwald, whose business, Greenwald Realty, was the event’s leading sponsor. Greenwald, who also serves on the Keene City Council, said the jobs done by service members and first responders often go unnoticed. First responders, he said, quietly resolve issues in the community, from dealing with domestic disputes to fighting floods and fires.
“Everyone in this room has a direct connection to someone who has served,” he said.
Later, the Keene Jazz Orchestra came on, playing time-honored tunes that set the mood. Behind the musicians flashed a series of photos. They were images of local veterans, active-duty military service members and first responders, all submitted by the community. Their names and some biographical information were collected for a special section of The Sentinel, which the audience received and is also included in today’s paper.
Then “Bob Hope” appeared.
“As we pause to honor the heroes among us, we hope your smile won’t be missing in action,” he said.
The audience chuckled.
The golden age had dawned again, if only for a few hours.