Paul Stanley On Veterans: ‘Their Bill Has Already Been Paid In Full’

Paul Stanley of KISS
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Back in the 1970s, KISS was one of the biggest rock bands on planet Earth. Even today, the group’s influence cannot be overstated. Combining a heavy metal sound, balls-to-the-wall theatrics, and sinister, comic book-style costumes, KISS redefined the rock & roll experience for a generation of young Americans who’d grown disillusioned with the disco music and folksy art ballads that pervaded the era. Now, many decades later, the KISS Army marches on.

And while they’ve yet to shed their rebellious stage presence, or the makeup, the members of KISS have become fiercely patriotic in their old age. The Freedom to Rock tour, which kicked off on July 4, will see the group performing in more than 30 cities across the country, many of which they’ve never played before. But it’s not just about the music: In an effort to shed light on military and veterans issues, the group has invited service members to join them on tour as honorary roadies.

Gunnery Sgt. Roberto Castillo, Recruiting Station Los Angeles Military Entrance Processing Station liasion, poses for a photo with Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famers Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS, Nov. 11, 2015, for a Veterans Day tribute at the Rock and Brews in El Segundo, Calif.Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders

“Anybody who comes from the military to be a KISS roadie can sit all day and watch, or can lug gear, or do whatever they want,” KISS frontman Paul Stanley (aka The Starchild) told Task & Purpose. “Their bill has already been paid in full.”

With the Freedom of Rock tour now in full swing, Task & Purpose spoke with Stanley about the disconnect between civilians and the military, why more can be done to support veterans, and preserving the KISS legacy.

Active duty service members and veterans, including Guard and Reserve, can apply for free Freedom to Rock concert tickets at Want to be a KISS roadie? Apply to Hiring Our Heroes here.   

Why did you decide to get involved in military and veterans issues? Do you have a personal connection to the military?

Well, my mom was born in Berlin and had to flee the country to avoid being gassed. She left Berlin and went to Amsterdam and had to flee there to stay one step ahead of the Holocaust. My dad is also first-generation Polish. Europeans have such a debt to the American armed forces for what they’ve done in the past. I think as I got older I certainly began to realize that the people in America who think that freedom is free are the ones who didn’t have to sacrifice for it. We’re born into a country where we take a lot for granted, and, unfortunately, the people who volunteer to go into harm’s way, who volunteer to risk life and limb, are the ones who somehow come back shortchanged. That’s grossly unfair.

Can you elaborate?

I think, besides the impact that serving has on vets, we sometimes forget that there are entire families involved — there are wives, there are children, there are husbands. And these people who do so much for us somehow get the short end of the stick upon their return. So any way that I can spotlight their plight. They are what has made America great, and their circumstances have really made me see the flaws in the system. I want to see us give back as much as possible, and to recognize the military, and to be proudly patriotic, and to support our troops in any way possible. It’s not a political issue, and it’s not a matter of how you feel about any battle, or the president or Congress. This is purely about supporting the people who go and do our battles for us.

Do you think things have gotten better for veterans since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began?

Certainly at this point we seem to recognize post-traumatic stress much more than we did. There are some wonderful programs, but they’re so much in the minority. There are people who need to be cared for and looked after — some much more obviously than others. But anybody who has an issue upon their return really needs to be given our full attention, and that still is not the case.

Did you guys receive a lot of fan mail from people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years?

Totally. Absolutely. There’s always been a connection between us and the military. I think there have always been active military and vets who have been fans of ours, and we’ve certainly been fans of theirs. So any time we can feature them or highlight them, the more the better. To have the military and first responders in the KISS Army, that’s an honor.

During this tour, you guys are inviting service members to work with the band as roadies. What’s the reasoning behind that?

More than anything else, it’s really a chance to spotlight the military and what they’ve done for us, and bring them into the consciousness of the people who perhaps take them for granted. It doesn’t change anybody’s life to spend the day with us. But it may impact the way how other people treat or what they contribute to help the military. These people deserve everything we can give them and more, because they make everything we have possible. So it’s a huge obligation that we have in the sense of responsibility. That being said, everybody at the arena gets an incredible show. It’s not only an honor. It’s something that we live to do. The legend of KISS is a great one and it means we have to go out there and live up to it and go beyond it.

Do you think veterans should play a bigger role in shaping the future of our country?

Well, they do. But what they’ve done for our country, they deserve to have access to better medical care, to any kind of monetary and psychological assistance they need, and benefits for the families. They’ve done everything and more to shape this country, and too often we believe that it’s the politicians who make this country what it is, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The people who make this country what it is is the military.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years as a prisoner of war during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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