Jan Howard: CMA Close Up Member of the Month for May
By Bob Doerschuk
© 2011 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
She's a familiar presence onstage with the Grand Ole Opry, which welcomed her as a member in 1971. Her recording success goes back to singing demos for her husband Harlan Howard in 1955 and other artists in 1957. She recorded successful duets with Wynn Stewart and celebrated her first Top 10 hit in 1960, "The One You Slip Around With."
Between 1965 and 1973, she charted several singles including the Top 5 "Bad Seed" and "Evil on Your Mind," and dueted with Bill Anderson on hits including "Dis-Satisfied," which they co-wrote, and "For Loving You," which spent four weeks at No. 1. She also wrote hits recorded by Anderson, Connie Smith and Kitty Wells among others. She branched into other creative areas, writing her autobiography Sunshine and Shadows and appearing in the film "Changing Hearts."
But for all the friends she's made, when Jan Howard visits The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., she goes alone. And she always stops at Panel 40 West, Line 58, where the name of her son James Van Howard is inscribed. Her life transformed when he was killed by a landmine in October 1968 at age 21, four months after his tour began, and escorted home by her middle son Carter Howard, also serving in Vietnam. "To this day, every time I see a young soldier in uniform in an airport or wherever, I want to run up, hug them and say 'thank you for your service,'" she said. "But I contain myself and limit my greeting to 'thank you.'" Howard released "My Son," a recitation based on a letter sent to Jimmy, two weeks before his death. An album in his memory, For God and Country, soon followed. Her ongoing performances, appearances at Veterans Day parades and visits to VA Hospitals and veterans' homes helped her win the 1992 Tennessee Adjutant General's Distinguished Patriot Medal, the 2005 Gold Medal of Merit Award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the 2010 Eagle Rare Life Award for Leadership. But her commitment goes further back, to the conception of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"Because of Jimmy's death, I was contacted to help raise money for them," she recalled. "At the request of Jan Scruggs (President of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, who served in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade from 1969–1970 as a corporal), I went to Washington, D.C., along with several high-ranking military officers, to raise money for the fund. Radio stations gave their time, and I went around the country to do radiothons: People would call in and pledge money. What really touched my heart was when they pledged their Social Security checks. All of it, from hard-working people everywhere, went into building the Wall."
Howard continues to act on every opportunity to support veterans. "Recently I visited the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro, where I was honored to be in the presence of some real heroes," she said. She also plays in charity golf tournaments to benefit the Special Olympics, the Bluebonnet Youth Ranch and many other worthy causes.
Is she a hero? Not at all, Howard protests. "I never want to be in the forefront for anything like this, but it's worth it to bring attention to people who gave so much. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have the life we have as Americans. You don't have to do anything grandiose to be kind; you just have to be grateful."