Thursday, October 29, 2009

KISS Surprise Wounded Warriors With Visit

Reach Steven Uhles
Photos by John Curry/staff

Although their long locks were far from military muster, members of the iconic rock act KISS were warmly welcomed at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center today.

The band, best known for its overtly theatrical hard rock shows, invited veterans and service members from the Augusta-based Wounded Warrior Projects CSRA program to its Atlanta concert Monday night, and followed up the show with a VA visit Wednesday before jetting to an evening gig in Nashville..

Three members of the band, guitarist Tommy Thayer, drummer Eric Singer and lead singer/guitarist Paul Stanley made the trip. Bass player Gene Simmons was unable to attend due to a prior engagement. Mr. Stanley, a founding member of the nearly 40-year-old act, was clearly touched by the opportunity to share time with the hospital's staff and patients.

"We're honored to be here with you people," he said, addressing the large crowd assembled in the rehabilitation room. "We're here for you. God bless you all."

Mr. Stanley said it was important to KISS, as a band, that the service men and women who are injured in the line of duty receive the respect and attention they deserve. Success, for the highly successful band, means ensuring that happens.

"People talk about the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "But isn't it a sacrifice to come back home and discover you no longer have your life? We want everyone home safely and to urge everyone to give these people the respect they deserve."

Stephen Ogles attended the event with his face painted with Gene Simmon's distinctive design. Mr. Stanley joked that he could be in the band, but he's a little too young. The wheelchair-bound Mr. Ogles said staff at the VA helped him prepare to meet KISS.

"I've been a fan of the boys for a lot of years," he said quietly. "I like that they came down."

Leonel Orozco left the event sporting a Paul Stanley-signed eye patch. He admitted that he had not grown up listening to KISS, but now considers himself a member of the KISS army.

"I really wasn't a fan at all," he said with a laugh. "I think I knew one song. But that concert made a fan out of me. They treat their fans really well and they are, I think, our biggest fans."

After meeting fans, signing autographs and taking pictures, the band took a short tour of hospital units, including its innovative kayak rehab center. Mr. Stanley said that as well as bringing a little joy to the patients, he hopes the KISS visit might bring attention to the Charlie Norwood VA Medial Center as well.

"You have this amazing facility here and it's almost a secret," he said. "It shouldn't be a secret. It should be a model, the template for facilities like this."

In the photos:

Paul Stanley poses for a picture with Jasper Stewart at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. Stewart painted his face with a star just like Stanley wears when he performs with KISS.

Paul Stanley, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer, pose for a picture with Stephen Ogles at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. Ogles painted his face like the band does when they perform.