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Willie Nelson warms up with injured troops

Country star sings 22 songs for wounded soldiers before playing concert
/ Source: The Associated Press

Willie Nelson warmed up for a concert by playing a long freebie gig for soldiers injured in Iraq.

For the second straight year, Nelson squeezed in a show at Brooke Army Medical Center on Friday while he and his band were in San Antonio to play at the city's annual rodeo.

"I have a lot of respect for the military," said Nelson, 72, an Air Force veteran. "I like to show them that I support them every chance I get. ... We get as much out of it as (the soldiers)."

A year ago, the singer wore out his voice singing 11 songs at the Army hospital and had to cancel his performance at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.

Hundreds of patients, family members and hospital staff clapped and cheered Friday as Nelson walked into the hospital's atrium.

He opened, as usual, with "Whiskey River." After more than an hour and 22 numbers — including standbys like "On the Road Again" and "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" — he finally set down his well-worn acoustic guitar and was mobbed by fans.

Sgt. 1st Class Alan Hornaday, badly wounded in a suicide car bombing in Baghdad in 2004, had a front-row seat for the concert.

"This is really cool, him being able to come out and visit soldiers and entertain them," said Hornaday, a National Guardsman from Fordyce, Ark., who also saw Nelson here last year. "It picks everybody's spirits up. ... It means a lot."