Congressional Medal of Honor Association Annual Dinner 2009

October 20th, 2010

 

  Nancy Reagan wrote me a letter of condolence when my mother died. It was very heartwarming and thrilling to know someone of her stature was aware of and appreciative of all my mother had done.   My mother was a world reknown authority on alcohol and drug additions – she was a psychiatric social worker who attended University of Pennsylvania at the age of 15 and graduated at the age of 20 with a Masters in Social Work.  

One day a psychiatrist, head of a hospital, asked my mother to start an alcoholism recovery program.  

She said: What’s that?

The psychiatrist said there isn¹t anything like it in the world, but she would figure it out.  

She did. And did a fantastic job, too.  

My mother in the 70’s got Betty Ford to go public with her alcoholism and drug addiction. A film producer was shocked that my mother used her 15 minutes or less with the First Lady of the US to help mankind, not herself. Betty Ford always was grateful.

As you know, because of Betty Ford¹s going public, addicted women, in particular, felt they could seek treatment without shame and alcoholism and drug addiction came out of the closet. This made it easier to treat.  

My mother went around the world lecturing and helping set up programs.

She quietly stood up to big business – it was more profitable for people to become addicts and the treatment centers to treat them. BIG money. My mother advocated education so people didn¹t BECOME alcoholics or addicts. But there was no money in that – they would sell less alcohol, less sales re treatment…  

She took me with her, so I did a lot of volunteer work from a very young age and learned a lot. Amazing to me were the similarities of people around the world – different tribes, similar worries – food and shelter and protection for their children and their family, for the young – finding a mate, peace (freedom from violence, be it domestic or tribal).  

And then of course the difference, different customs, some wonderful, some to us, very harsh. And the misperceptions of other peoples due to the media and to government misrepresentations to their people. . .  

I remember a woman saying: You women in your country want freedom and equality. What we want – we need water, food. Equality means water, food every day.  

My mother was amazing. People adored her – her calm, strong presence had a powerful influence. She died in 1986 at the tender age of 57 1/2. Her mother had died at the age of 60. So when people talk about me outliving Gen Yeager’s, life expectancy in my family hasn’t been going the right way. My mother’s father died at 39 of a brain tumor so I have outlived his life expectancy. My father’s father died of bone cancer at age 60. Not looking good.

So when I met Nancy Reagan for the second time (see my photos), she was very gracious as always and very calm, elegant.   I was the guest of Bill Tilley, a long time friend of Gen Yeager’s – we were attending the annual Congressional Medal of Honor Association dinner at the Reagan Library outside Los Angeles March 2009.

Gen Yeager was fishing in Mexico. He has his priorities right! It was a boy trip – I was not invited.   Many of the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients are pretty darn cool. Most of them say they represent many soldiers – because many did more than or as much as they did and should have received it.  

Every time I introduced myself: Hi, I’m Victoria Yeager – I’m General Chuck Yeager’s wife, they brightened up (a real hero, not these Hollywood people who play heroes), shook my hand, looked around me, beyond me, and said: Is he here?   I had to tell them: No, just chopped liver.

They, the recipients, were so gracious and honored just to shake my hand – one degree of separation.

They are so….can¹t think of the words – but Chuck Yeager is their hero. Imagine. These guys who went beyond the call of duty, risking their necks to save so many others (as did Gen Yeager) and still so humble that they look up to someone else. Beautiful.  

I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with Mrs. Petraeus. What a wonderful woman she is. Down to earth. She also was thrilled to talk to Mrs. Yeager. I just take all that – thrilled myself that people are still excited about and appreciate what Gen Yeager has done and continues to do. 

Mrs. Petraeus stood out with me – the two without anything fake. Remember, we were in Hollywood country so in the minority.   Gen Petraeus is an eloquent, thoughtful fellow. And I really liked him when he acknowledged his wife during his acceptance of an award, and one could see – they loved and respected each other still. That he loved and respected her and was not enamored or swayed by the Hollywood plaster or even noticed… Wonderful.

They met while her father was the General at West Point and he was a student.  

I saw Tom Selleck and his wife, Jillian? is her name, I think. I had met her when she was pregnant many years ago – and told her of the meeting. She was appreciative that I particularly remembered her, since she does not quite have the celebrity exposure her husband does. Tom remembered/acknowledged me for the first time (we¹ve met a few times at charities) and mentioned a specific time before that we had met (at a charity event in Washington, DC), wondering if I remembered. I did. Tom and another guy were whispering and pointing as I recall. :-)

….Hmm. Maybe they don’t like chopped liver. I love it.  

I also met Gary Sinise and his wife. Well, I had met his wife about 15 years ago and reminded her of our meeting and asked how she was. She was so appreciative, too. She’s such a lovely lady. Afterwards, I saw her whispering to Gary and pointing. They, at least, were smiling. They must like…  

Then I went to my table. Sitting down and eating – the only one doing so in the room – everyone else was schmoozing – we were in Hollywood-adjacent remember – was Mrs. Milken. Michael Milken introduced himself and went to introduce his wife.

She said almost sheepishly, I was hungry.   I jumped in: My kinda gal. I’m going to join you.   And I did. I think she liked me a whole lot then.   I teased Michael: I was about to get a job with your outfit,

You could see Michael curious and wary as to what I was going to say.

Me: (continuing)….when all heck broke loose. I coulda been somebody. Í needed a good mentor :-)   Relieved, he laughed.  

 I continued: Then Carl Icahn was going to teach a class at business school (Columbia University Graduate School of Business) when he got in trouble so they canceled it and I obviously didn¹t get to take it.  

 I didn’t tell Michael Milken that, after his deal with the Feds became public, whenever investment bankers suggested padding expenses, I would say: Hey I can be bought – but it’s $500 million in my pocket. Heck it’s $1 billion – $500 million isn’t what it used to be.  

The Milkens gave me the impression that they really want to do some good in the world these days. Very delicate, caring, and sweet.  

The tenor was outstanding. As he sung and we were all moved, I started to think I know him…looks different in black tie….AH HA! He is the fellow who, at some airport for some layover, invited us into the VIP lounge when the lounge security couldn¹t find out names.

I had asked if he would trade an invite for an autographed photo. He was happy to help Gen Yeager and chopped liver. I asked for his card to send the signed photo.   He wrote back when he received it: Your companion sent the photo – Thank you
– I didn’t expect it but appreciate it. (I think he was quite shocked I followed through). Í was too – my memory and time isn’t always as good as my intentions.

He also sent some of his DVDs, so I sent a thank you note and let him know I was Gen Yeager¹s wife (Gen Yeager doesn’t need a companion :-)   So as he walked off stage and toward his table, I rushed over to him: Did you help Gen and Mrs. Yeager get in the VIP room at an airport?   He looked at me as I babbled…and the light went on – Mrs. Chuck Yeager (the companion).

He gave me a huge hug: YES! In Dallas!…Is the General here?   :-)   Me (chopped liver): No, fishing in Mexico. Your voice is so beautiful. Outstanding.   He thanked me and thanked me for saying hello – his best to the General. He gave me another appreciative hug and we returned to our respective tables.

He sang a few more songs interspersed throughout the evening – the last one “God Bless America” – not a dry eye in the house. VERY moving evening.   Another moment that was funny was: Gary Sinise gave a talk, a fairly lengthy talk, which he or someone had written and he stumbled over the words several times. 

I turned to Mrs. Milken, surprised: He¹s an actor! Why didn’t he memorize it and act it?   Mrs. Milken laughed and agreed.  

Charles Durning got a special award for actors (they are so never recognized – ha ha) for his courage in war or something. They had played a video, which claimed that Charles Durning was there on D-Day, that he had been wounded over the next few months – 3-5 (I think it’s 5 but I hesitate to exaggerate what they said, it is already a “story”) times almost fatally, but that he got up and got back in the fight. He was captured behind enemy lines a couple of times and escaped a few times. It was incredible. And I do mean that literally.  

Instead of going home, as I thought from Chile and then Mexico and then coming to this dinner (and bring my own fancy clothes that fit) I had come straight from Mexico and so no black tie clothes. My pants in the photo are from K-Mart and my shirt was from some fancy department store in Los Angeles. I tried on everything and I don’t have the fake anything to fill out the dresses there. Boy did I look….BAD in those outfits.  And they were fabulously….expensive!

No one does elegant royal blue blazers any more, either.   I was definitely spoiled growing up – my mother¹s best friend was a fabulous dress designer – a unique style, real flair, pizzazz and elegance – so everything fit and was perfect for me.

Those were the days :-)

Funny, at the dinner, I was momentarily self-conscious about my clothes mentioning I had come without proper clothes. (I hate having to fiddle with clothes so usually buy them loose-ish – the bottom of my shirt kept riding up – more like walking up).  

Michael Milken (quite rightly & returning the favor I did for his wife re comfort) said: Who cares? You’re fine.  

I don¹t think he even looked – he¹s really got his priorities right now. Wonder if he cared about clothes when he was the boss at Drexel – or had a uniform for his employees? I’ll blog on that later.
 
Earlier that day, I had finally given up shopping (gave it 1 ½ hours including travel time) and went to Nadine Tilley’s (Bill Tilley’s) wife’s horse show at the LA Equestrian Center. Who cares about shopping and wearing fabulous clothes, when there are far more interesting things to do than shopping. Like visiting a fun friend I rarely see.  

As Gen Yeager says, if they care so much about your clothes, they don’t care much about you and aren’t worth it (as long as my clothes are neat and clean).  

Amen.  

c. GCYI  

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