Tenor Anthony Kearns Headlined 'Fourth Annual Holiday Cocktails And Songs Of The Season' In Washington, D.C.
On Thursday night before Christmas 2019, the Phoenix Hotel in downtown Washington DC was the scene of the "Fourth Annual Holiday Cocktails and Songs of the Season" celebration, featuring international celebrity tenor, Anthony Kearns.
White House Correspondent Kevin Corke was Master of Ceremonies for this inspiring evening that took place in the shadow of the nation's Capitol building. The highlighted charity this year was the Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) -- and the guests of honor included World War II veterans of Operation Overlord, the Normandy invasion of 1944.
A unique recognition of the heroism of "The Greatest Generation" was formally introduced to the delight of both the recipients and the audience. In June 2019, these veterans were introduced on the 75th anniversary of that historic event and granted the honor of having the next litter of WCC puppies named the "Overlord Puppies," each of which would be named after one the veterans. On December 19th, the six-month-old puppies were presented to their namesakes in some touching moments. (Watch Fox5 story about the "Operation Overlord" litter.)
Along with Mr. Kearns' emotive performance, it is safe to say that the beautiful Labrador puppies captured the hearts of the veterans and the audience as well.
The program was divided into two parts: a series of speakers who educated the audience about the WCC, as well as the historical context of Operation Overlord and another sponsor of the evening, the U.S. Army's 69th Regiment of New York, known as the "Fighting 69th" and 'the Fighting Irish" after their origins as the Irish Militia. Next came Mr. Kearns, a native son of Ireland, popular for his musical talent on both sides of the Atlantic.
The call to Order was given by Admiral Charlie Williams (US Navy-retired), nephew of Overlord veteran, Wilbur Williams, who introduced Anthony Kearns to lead the National Anthem. The Pledge of Allegiance was then led by a chorus of military dignitaries including Coast Guard Rear Admiral Melissa Bert.
Admiral Bert introduced Toastmaster Kevin Corke, most recently Fox News White House Correspondent, after previous stops as national news correspondent for NBC News and sports anchor and announcer for ESPN.
Next came U.S. House of Representatives Chaplain, Father Pat Conroy for the invocation. Father Conroy also explained the absence of the numerous Members of Congress who usually attend this event by announcing that the Congressional Schedule which had originally called for the Session to end on Saturday had instead terminated early, causing a mass flight home by the Members.
Mr. Corke then recognized all U.S. military veterans in the audience, including former Governor of Virginia Robert McDonnell who served in the U.S. Army and Colonel James B. Hickey, who led Operation Red Dawn (responsible for the capture of Saddam Hussein) and is now with Raytheon. Besides the many veterans in the audience, other distinguished guests included senior Cabinet officials, Hill staff, foreign dignitaries, and leading members of the business community.
Corke then introduced CSM Tom Seiffer (retired) and CSM Shaun Butcher of the 69th Infantry Regiment of New York by first giving a brief history of the unit starting with the pre-civil War Irish Militia. After a few words about the famed unit's storied history which includes heroic episodes from the Battle of Bull Run to present day, Corke thanked them for their service and also for contributing the "Regimental Toast" at the end of the program.
Next was the first highlight of the evening, beginning with Mr. Corke's historical note tracing the invasion of Normandy and the sheer size of the Allied Forces. He also added the numbers for WWII:
16 million Americans served in the military - roughly 11% of the population
Ø 406,000 died
Ø 600,000 wounded
Ø 5600 American civilians died
Ø Total WWII dead, estimated 75-80 million
Wilbur Williams, who served on the USS Jeffers, represented his fellow veterans, including Guy Williams and Carl Felton who were unable to personally attend due to last minute health concerns. A tribute was also paid to Don McKee, who passed away a few weeks earlier, underscoring the fragile health of the nation's World War II-era veterans. In recognition of their outstanding military service, each of these veterans has a beautiful service puppy named after them to carry their legacy forward and inspire their recipients.
Next Rick Yount, founder of this unique organization, Warrior Canine Connection and Dr. Bob Koffman, a combat veteran and Chief Medical Advisor to WCC. They informed the audience of the immensely beneficial impact service dogs have on veterans with mental and/or physical war wounds. But these dogs require two years' training before being reliable enough to send into the field. Even with scores of dogs in training at any given time, the need is greater than the supply of trained service dogs. Since WCC depends solely on voluntary contributions of money and time, Mr Yount asked the audience to help in whatever way they can.
Kevin Corke, speaking on behalf of the entire audience, then recognized Kirsten A. Fedewa, who was responsible for this very enjoyable and informative event. The audience gave her an enthusiastic round of applause.
Wrapping up this portion of the program was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Irish Embassy, Emer Rocke, who introduced fellow countryman, Anthony Kearns. She noted Mr. Kearns' impressive history as the youngest member of the Irish Tenors, an immensely popular international group, as well as his solo career which has featured performances before American Presidents, Pope Francis I, the U.S. Joint Chiefs, and many other dignitaries, as well as operatic roles here and abroad, and concerts with many of the great orchestras of the world.
Kearns' performance this night consisted of many favorite Christmas hymns, carols and leading the audience in rousing renditions of such familiar songs as "Silent Night, "Silver Bells," "White Christmas," "Jingle Bells,"and especially 'God Bless America." Accompanied by Liz Sesler-Beckman, Kearns concluded with a touching encore of "Danny Boy," always a favorite. The applause was thunderous and lasted forever.
Although champagne was poured throughout the evening courtesy of Wine Institute, the final cap on the evening was a Regimental Toast of the Fighting 69th which was shared in special shot glasses with the entire audience. Now in its fourth year, the evening has clearly become one of the City's most cherished holiday traditions.