Note from MOAA: VetsAid is a recipient of MOAA's Distinguished Service Award, which honors individuals and organizations supporting servicemembers and the wider military community. Read more about MOAA’s 2021 award winners.
By Kristin Davis
Army flight instructor Bob Fidler died July 22, 1949, after crashing his F-80 Shooting Star during maneuvers in Okinawa. The 24-year-old lieutenant left behind a wife, Helen, and 20-month-old son, Joseph.
Fidler is the inspiration behind VetsAid, a national nonprofit that raises funds for veterans service groups, started by Joseph Fidler — better known as Joe Walsh, a legendary guitarist, long-time member of the Eagles and an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“My dad left one day and never came back,” Walsh said. “He was my hero. He was my guy. I decided I wanted to live my life for him.”
Started in 2017, VetsAid has been an annual music festival with headliners such as Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Zac Brown, Don Henley, and of course, Walsh himself. The inaugural show in Fairfax, Va., raised $360,000 for 16 charities, including Operation Mend, Hire Heroes USA, and Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation.
The following year in Tacoma, Wash., VetsAid raised $795,000 with a five-hour concert. For the first three shows, performers brought their full bands and played full sets. The 2020 concert was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but streaming made it a global experience.
Since its inception, VetsAid has raised more than $1.5 million. Every penny of it goes to vetted charities that support veterans and their families. The musicians play for free. There is virtually no overhead; Walsh’s stepson and VetsAid cofounder Christian Quilici handles most of the logistics out of his suburban Washington, D.C., living room.
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“We have people who buy airplane tickets and rent hotels and Airbnbs the day we announce where we’re going to be,” Quilici said. “We have caravans of fans. We want to bring this to a different city in a different part of the country every year. Because the one thing that unites us is that we’re Americans.”
Decades on the road, both as a solo artist and as a member of bands such as the Eagles, gave Walsh a view of a nation full of displaced veterans. When the Eagles would play Washington, D.C., he’d make his way over to the prosthetic unit of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The spirit of the men and women there, many in their 20s, moved him.
“They were just a fellowship, a band of brothers,” he said. “They weren’t bitter. They just wanted to get fitted with their prosthetic and learn how to use it and get back to their lives.”
On one visit, one of the veterans said he had a guitar. “Go get it,” Walsh told him.
When the veterans asked Walsh to play “Hotel California,” he told him they’d have to sing it. He didn’t know the words; he’d only ever played guitar on the song.
“Then, bingo!” Walsh said. “We were buddies from then on.”