The Gatlin Brothers: First Country Performers To Entertain U.S. Troops In Haiti (1994)
Originally published in the November 29, 1994 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
“We believe that being patriotic is not old-fashioned,” said the Gatlin Brothers’ Larry Gatlin, during his rendezvous with American troops in Haiti.
Larry Gatlin was the first entertainer to visit the troops in Somalia. Now, he and his brother Rudy have traveled to Haiti to perform, shake hands, sign autographs and tell jokes to American soldiers deployed in the troubled Caribbean island.
“I don’t pretend to understand the politics of the situation,” Larry told Country Weekly, removing his cap to scratch his head. “But wherever our kids are sent, we will go.”
They went without hesitation when they got the first phone call from the U.S.O., despite the eight shows they are committed to putting on six days a week at their new theater in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Right after the last show on their sixth day of work, at 11 p.m. Oct. 23, Larry and Rudy boarded a chartered plane that took them from Myrtle Beach and landed at 2 a.m. in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.
The Gatlins catnapped, then took a Blackhawk helicopter to Cap Haitien, in the north of the island. There they set up for a noon concert for 2,000 troops gathered at the edge of the airport.
“I wish we’d had an aerial shot,” said Miguel Monteverde, the Gatlins’ senior U.S.O. escort. “It would have looked like a drive-in movie for road-building equipment. The bulk of the troops sat in the foreground, but ringing the perimeter were road graders and trucks. They had been working on the edge of the airstrip, so they just rumbled over and parked.”
Japer Cliff, 26, a Kansan in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, was one of the first to arrive for the concert. He told Country Weekly he loves country music. “It’s my roots!” he said. “They are going to give me a little touch of home.”
Men and women in uniform began to dance. “I never dreamt I could dance here,” soldier Gray Cummimgs said, happy and smiling.
AT&T, the main sponsor for the Gatlins’ trip, provided yellow discs the troops sent flying through the air. The sky turned yellow when the Gatlins sang their huge hit, “All the Gold in California.”
“We made them rock ’n’ roll—we sure did!” Rudy said.
Another helicopter trip brought them back to Port-au-Prince for a 5 p.m. concert.
Monteverde fretted that the Port-au-Prince concert, at the capital city’s airport, might be drowned out by arriving and departing planes. No problem.
“The air base commander was attending the concert and made sure planes didn’t take off or land, except between songs,” Monteverde said.
The Gatlins’ rapid to-and-fro travel left little time to see the Haitian people, but Rudy, the quietest Gatlin brother, saw enough to understand the troops’ mission.
“Poverty, desperate poverty,” he said. “When you see it, not on a TV screen but with your own eyes, you realize how much those people need us. Who else can help them, but America? I am proud to be an American. We are the shining hope of the world!”
Brothers For the People
Before and after concerts, the Gatlins tirelessly offered kind words, smiles for pictures, their hands for autographs, and themselves for pictures when anyone asked.
“Real professionals. Hard workers,” said Monteverde. “The opposite of prima donnas....They performed a great service to our soldiers, in the tradition of Bob Hope going to entertain our troops in World War II.”
Lt. Col. Barbara MacMillan, the blonde liason between the USO and the military, asked Larry to take her in his arms for a photo.
“Of course—yes,” said the singer. “Believe me, I never hugged a lieutenant colonel before!”
The Gatlins also tried to see everyone who couldn’t make it to their concerts: the sick in the hospital, the soldiers on duty. They met the Port-au-Prince ground crew, which gave the brothers some quick lessons and had them park a huge C-5A that happened to arrive.
“They outfitted Larry and Rudy with orange vests and wands and marshaled this giant aircraft into its parking place. Rudy brought it around and Larry parked it,” Monteverde said.
At a mess-hall ceremony that night, each brother was awarded a U.S. flag that flew over Haiti during the troops’ mission.
“America, dear America,” said Larry. “Be proud of your sons and daughters. They go on your name and they do a hell of a good job. Support them, pray for them and welcome them well!”
The next morning, it was time to return to Myrtle Beach. They appeared on their home stage that evening.