Two Purple Heart Combat Heroes honored at Traveling Vietnam Wall

By  | 

Veterans and concerts are both huge parts of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and one foundation found a way to combine the two in an extraordinary way.

The Heart Strings for Heroes Foundation has been honoring Purple Heart veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving our country by giving them guitars to help them with music therapy.

The Foundation concluded their first Strings Across America tour in Sturgis Friday, awarding two guitars in front of the Traveling Vietnam Wall, an iconic tribute to soldiers everywhere.

Recipient Connie Johnson is an army veteran who was wounded in Iraq back in 2004.

Johnson says, "We were doing combat security for a General at the time. I was a gunner, so I stood up in the Humvee, I had my saw and my grenade launcher. We were coming up over the Tigris River, like we've done a hundred times, and there was a planted exploding device. No one seen it. We were driving and I was looking up scanning and it hit me in the side of the neck, back of the neck and came up across the front of the neck, less than a half an inch from my artery. The only thing that saved my life is I was looking the other way."

Johnson suffered from nerve and tissue damage and has numbness in her neck and the side of her face.

Heath Soelzer is also an army veteran.

He was awarded his Purple Heart after he was injured in Afghanistan in 2010.

Soelzer says, "We had a fire mission and the round that we were shooting blew up in the tube. So they brought us back, the three of us that were the worst, and they medically retired us."

President and Founder of the foundation, Wade Sabourin, who found sobriety through music, started awarding guitars in hopes of helping veterans cope with their own traumas in a similar way.

Johnson says, "With the war being so long, years and years the war has been playing out, it's become a norm and as sad as it is, you know, it's almost forgotten in a small way. So with people like Wade who go out there and they are still remembering and honoring the soldiers that are out there because it's not about glory. It's not about fame. It's not about recognition, and there's not a soldier out there that will tell you that it is. It's about love. Love for country, love for freedom. That's why we do it. But then when you get that phone call saying, 'Hey, want a guitar?' Yeah, I'll take that guitar, that's cool, you're welcome, thank you for remembering that it was traumatic and scary and wonderful and beautiful and it's a piece of me that I'll never give back."

Soelzer says, "Incredible. I didn't even know anything about it until I looked it up, and it's a real honor to be receiving this."

Johnson is also the first woman ever to be honored by the foundation and says it's incredible to represent the tough, military females.

Johnson says, "I'm glad to be that strong symbol for women that we can do it and we come through with it and we can be a part of a 'man's' world."

The Strings Across America Tour set out to honor 16 Purple Heart Combat veterans in 16 different cities, giving away guitars at each stop.