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The Senior Citizen News (Pennsylvania)
November 2001

One Man's Voice Touches the Lost Souls of War: Homeless Vets

By Cate McKissick

Many celebrities use their fame for a variety of causes.  Some raise money for AIDS research, may have recently helped raise money for victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy and other raise money for humane societies.

Canadian singer John McDermott has used his fame to help in the cause of homeless veterans, an almost forgotten and overlooked segment of society.

"My father was a greater supporter of this cause," said McDermott.  "I've continued it after his death."

McDermott was reluctant to talk much about his father's specific contributions but said, "He was a good man and this is a good cause."

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs, one-third of homeless people in the United States are veterans.

A private man, McDermott is reluctant to discuss his work for America's homeless veterans.  In part, he said, because he doesn't feel what he does should be the focus of attention.

"I just find I have some usefulness to helping them," he said.  "If the vets can use my visibility to get their message across, so be it."

McDermott, a former circulation manager to the Toronto Sun has three platinum records; nine releases, five Juno nominations (the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Grammy) and used to sing with The Irish Tenors.

McDermott ha performed at such ceremonies honoring veterans including the Korean War 50th Anniversary Event in Worcester, Mass., the annual 1812 Concert at West Point in Trophy Point, NY., with the Boston Pops overlooking Boston Harbor for a farewell celebration to the International Tall Ships, at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial with Miss America 2000 Heather French, who also champions homeless veterans, and at the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act Celebration in San Jose, Calif.

But McDermott's work for veterans goes beyond just singing,  He has also helped to build transition housing for homeless vets in Boston and in Washington, D.C.

"It's not a handout." McDermott said.  "But a helping hand."

In October 2000 he attended the groundbreaking for the Hope McDermott Day Program Center in Boston, named after his later mother.  The program center will help homeless veterans make the transition from homelessness to self-sufficient.  The year before that was the groundbreaking the McDermott House in Washington, D.C.  The McDermott House, which will house 40 veterans, is a joint effort between the U.S. Dept. of Veterans' Affairs and the Washington, D.C. Housing Authority.

This past July, McDermott was honored with the Bob Hope Award.  The award is for people, through their life's work in the entertainment industry, have distinguished themselves by outstanding service to or positive portrayal of the United States military.

"The veterans population is virtually ignored outside of one day a year," McDermott said.  "So much of the music I sing really speaks to the veterans' experience and I feel a great deal of respect for the men and women who put their lives on the line for the sake of their country.  They're the ones that allow us to have this conversation.

Closet to home, McDermott was recently awarded the Chapel of Four Chaplains' Humanitarian Award in Scranton.  Currently, McDermott has embarked on his "Remembrance Tour," a tribute to veterans from Sept. 15-Nov 16.  Proceeds from this tour will help benefit homeless veterans.

McDermott will be singing in Carlisle on Nov. 13 at the Carlisle Theater.

"The homeless vets are always going to be there,"  McDermott said.  "They're everywhere in every state and every country.  It's very, very gratifying for me to help: to help make a difference in someone's life."

"Being able to affect people and help them makes me feel a sense of accomplishment," he said.  "If something good is coming out of what you do, what a good feeling that is."