You probably knew him as Maverick or Rockford. He was an icon in film and television. At the National Veterans Foundation we knew him as a supporter who was there for veterans over and over. James Garner served as an honorary board member of the NVF for many years. In 1996 we honored him as our Veteran of the Year. But he wasn’t the kind of man to make a big deal of that. I doubt that there are even a handful of people out there who knew about his support for vets.
James Garner was warm and personable and easy to talk to. The year we honored him, the ceremony came at the end of our golf tournament. I have great memories of this because it was the last time my father came out from Alabama for the tournament. My dad wasn’t well enough to play that year, but that didn’t stop him from being on the course with us. The two of them hit it off, bantering back and forth all day. There was lots of laughter, and at the end of the day, James took home a Tom-Petty-signed guitar that was auctioned as a fundraiser for the NVF’s Lifeline for Vets.
Garner was a decorated combat veteran himself. He said he’d gotten his high-school diploma in the Army. Later he served in the National Guard in the U.S., then went to Korea, serving in the 5th Regimental Combat Team. Of war, he had this to say: "It was cold and hard. I was one of the lucky ones."
In the years of success that followed, he never forgot his comrades-in-arms. He was one of several celebrities who joined Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963. Throughout his life he stood up and spoke up for what he believed. Part of that was supporting veterans.
We'll miss him.
Where are the celebrities coming up to replace the likes of James Garner, Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, Charles Durning and Robert Mitchum, cultural heroes who set an example of leadership that's separate from popularity? At the NVF, Dan Lauria, Blake Clark and Oliver Stone, all Vietnam vets, have stepped up to the plate, as has Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, whose father was a World War II veteran.
For now, let's thank James Garner and other dedicated vets for their example. They help make it possible to do what we do at the NVF. And if you know a vet who needs help, give them the NVF’s Lifeline for Vets number: 888-777-4443. A trained veteran counselor is waiting on the other end of the line.