A videotaped effort to show Western New York's support for American troops overseas received a thrilling send-off Friday night.
A rough cut of the morale-boosting video, called "Buffalo/Niagara to Baghdad," was shown as part of a program of patriotic music and speeches in the Seneca Events Center in the hotel behind the Seneca Niagara Casino. The effort was organized by Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 77, based in the Town of Tonawanda.
The tape consists of ad-libbed greetings from local citizens, taped at locations all over the area. More greetings were recorded at a reception in the hotel before the program. A crowd of about 400 heard a concert by the U.S. Marine Corps Band and a talk by actor Steve Schirripa, who played Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri on the just-concluded HBO series "The Sopranos."
He said HBO chief executive officer Bill Nelson, himself a veteran, asked him to come here to help launch the video.
HBO technicians will perform the final editing of the tape and duplicate 10,000 copies on DVD to be sent to every U.S. military base and warship in the world. U-Haul will pay to print 10,000 accompanying program books.
Schirripa said such an effort might help focus Americans on what's important.
"This country is more worried about Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith instead of these soldiers that are getting wounded," he said. "We appreciate them."
The Marine band included Sgt. Andrea Smith, a 2001 graduate of Orchard Park High School, playing clarinet.
"It's great to see the support," she said. "Just a simple 'thank you' means so much."
Buffalo firefighter Jeffrey Gray, a member of the 914th Airlift Wing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, was one of the many local veterans on hand.
He returned in February from a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. He said efforts like "Buffalo/Niagara to Baghdad" make a difference in morale.
"We get to see that there are people here who support us," said Gray.