Heroes Honor Lifetime Award Winner
Miss Chris Noel
Chris Noel has dedicated her life to supporting and giving back to Veterans by raising awareness of Veterans’ medical issues, while also actively fighting homelessness and suicide at her shelter in South Florida today. She stood up and volunteered to help improve morale during the Vietnam War, when many others turned their backs on our soldiers. Whether it was in the war zone, testifying before Congress, or one-on-one with a homeless Veteran, her dedication to those who served America has been unwavering.
A DATE WITH CHRIS
About Chris Noel, Continued...
In the early 1960’s, Chris Noel was a Hollywood starlet who co-starred in films with Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Dennis Hopper, while dating some of the most eligible bachelors in Hollywood. Her film and television career was soaring and she had everything going her way. Then, during a visit to a Vietnam Veteran’s hospital in San Francisco during Christmastime 1965, she decided to change the direction of her life forever. After visiting and performing for the soldiers injured in Vietnam, she was stunned by their physical condition and the overall lack of morale. She committed herself to making a difference in their lives, thinking “I have to find a way to make them happy.” She started on a path that would become her life’s work: dedicating herself to serving American service members and Veterans.
In 1966, Chris Noel began recording a radio show for the American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN). Her show called “A Date with Chris,” was an instant hit among service members in Vietnam and ran for six years. As her popularity and positive impact on morale grew, leadership at the Department of Defense asked her to conduct a Christmas 1966 tour in Vietnam. Although she was not part of the USO tour, Bob Hope was so impressed with her positive impact on the troops, he invited her to perform with him in one of his USO shows. After this performance, she began a four-year series of volunteer visits. Chris visited not only the main bases in Vietnam but helicoptering “in-country” to the most remote jungle and mountain outposts and firebases where most other entertainers wouldn’t go.
During her visits to Vietnam, Chris would perform songs, visit hospitals and aid stations, and just spend time talking with the troops. In an interview in 2008, Chris said “I feel really blessed that I could be there for a few moments with them, just to sign some pictures, just to say hello, just to let them know that, yes, people do care about you.” She wanted to bring these men a sense of home even if it meant putting herself in harm’s way. She was shot at numerous times, received sniper fire, mortar fire and a crash landed in a Huey she was riding in, but it never deterred her commitment. Her impact on morale was so great that the North Vietnamese placed a $10,000 bounty on her head. She was referred to as America’s answer to “Hanoi Hannah”, the well-known North Vietnamese propaganda radio personality.
Between her visits to Vietnam, Chris found it more and more difficult to get cast in acting jobs in Hollywood, as she was being shunned due to her morale boosting activities in the war zone. She lost dear friends because of her support of the troops but she was willing to make those sacrifices. In her book, Vietnam and Me, she wrote “Vietnam or no Vietnam, Soldiers were special then as they are now; they will always be special as far as I’m concerned.” She has certainly lived up to making them feel special.
Like many who served in Vietnam, Chris was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the 1980’s. Through treatment, she learned to live with it, but also allowed her to better understand the challenges PTSD created for many Veterans of the war. Using these experiences and taking advantage of her celebrity status, Chris testified before the Congressional Committee on Benefits and Health in 2000 to raise awareness about the homeless and drug addiction issues faced by Veterans.
Earlier, during a hunger strike by Veterans at the Los Angeles Veterans Hospital in 1981 where Veterans were demanding better treatment, the Reagan administration reached out to Chris Noel to assist them in communicating directly to the Veterans. With her assistance, a deal was negotiated, and the hunger strike came to an end.
In February 1993, Chris founded the Chris Noel’s Vetsville Cease Fire House, Inc. (vetsville.us) as the first non-profit homeless Veterans’ shelter in Palm Beach County, Florida. Chris had seen the homeless Vietnam vets lying on streets across America and had to do something to actively help. Vetsville has been providing shelter, food, clothing, and resources to homeless Vets every day and night since it opened. While Chris would love to close the shelter, it will remain open until there is no need for it. Vetsville will be the ongoing testament to Chris’ life of supporting Veterans, for the generations to come.
In addition to her work with Vetsville, Chris continues to support Veterans through speaking engagements around the country addressing the challenges they face. She also participates in events that honor our Veterans, especially those of the Vietnam War. She has been the guest of honor and host for the annual Rolling Thunder Run in Washington D.C. on many occasions since it began in 1988.
Recently, in April 2019, Chris was invited by the U.S. Army Center of Military History as a featured speaker in a daylong symposium about manpower and morale issues in Vietnam after the Tet Offensive. The event was cosponsored by the Kansas University (KU) Center for Military, War & Society Studies, held at the KU Alumni Center in Lawrence, Kansas. After her lunchtime talk, she received a standing ovation from all the Vietnam Veterans attending. Many Vietnam Veterans will attest that Chris had such a positive emotional impact on them, that they couldn’t have made it through their time in Vietnam without her.Chris Noel’s lifelong commitment to supporting and improving the morale of service members by standing up to fight for Veteran issues, regardless of her personal sacrifices, is one of the greatest examples of outstanding voluntary public service in American history.
Chris Noel is the author of three books about her experiences in the Vietnam War. Vietnam and Me, Confessions of a Pin-Up Girl and A Blonde Bomb Goes to Vietnam.
Previous awards and honors include;
2019 - Ella Dickey Literacy Award for History awarded for her book “Vietnam and Me.”
2019 - Silver Helmet Award Selectee from AMVETS (American Veterans).
1984 - Distinguished Vietnam Veteran Award from the Veterans Network.