The VIP Salute Program began in 1966, when Carmella, worked for Vice President Hubert Humphrey, she organized an Armed Forces Day party for wounded veterans at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
The people from Walter Reed Army Hospital asked her if she could do the same there. “At Walter Reed I went through the amputee ward,” recalled Carmella. “It’s one thing to read about it, but another thing to actually see these 19-year-old boys missing arms and legs. I asked them who they would most like to have visit them, and they said, “Pretty girls and athletes.”
Carmella soon recruited her friends to visit the patients. She contacted Major League Baseball (MLB) teams when they came to town to play the Washington Senators; the first team to come to the hospital was the New York Yankees, led by Mickey Mantle and Jim Bouton on July 1, 1967. NGL President Ted Williams, manager of the Washington Senators, and his team would visit the patients at the local military hospitals.
Thus VIP was born. In 1969, NGL organized a VIP Day and invited President Nixon, as well as many star athletes, celebrities, and dignitaries throughout the country, to visit military and VA hospitals.
“The athletes’ response was fantastic,” states Carmella. “They wanted to do more. In 1970, we arranged for a special party at Walter Reed. The Redskins, Baltimore Colts led by Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore Bullets, and NASCAR Champ Mark Donahue, all were coming. I asked the patients who else they would most like to see, and they said Joe Namath. I knew it was a million to one shot, and it was only three days before the party, but I called John Free, the business manager of the Jets, and asked him if Joe would come.
Joe flew down for the party as a complete surprise and spent several hours visiting with the patients. “One soldier was having a very serious operation the next day,” recalled Carmella. “He especially wanted to meet Joe, who visited him, and the doctors felt the visit from Joe gave him a tremendous boost and that was the best medicine the soldiers could have received.”
In 1974, No Greater Love initiated the National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans with the return of the POWs in Vietnam. It became an official Veterans Administration program in 1979 through the order of then VA Administrator Max Cleland, a member of NGL’s National Advisory Board at the time. Celebrity visits to VA hospitals all across the country are made annually on the second Monday in February. Athletes, entertainers, and dignitaries have joined in this effort and a number of elementary school children have written letters and sent gifts as part of the observance. The program is held annually in the 172 VA hospitals across the country.
We, the patients of Ward 8, would like to thank you for the “No Greater Love” Day presented here at Oklahoma City Veterans’ Hospital…It helped to brighten the lonely hours of the hospitalized veteran. Thank you once again, for your concern for us.
–The Patients of Ward 8
For more information on this tribute, please visit this page.