Wes Studi

The internationally acclaimed actor Wes Saudi will receive the VVA Excellence In the Arts Award at the Saturday night Awards Banquet. Studi’s acting credits include prominent roles in “Dances with Wolves”, and “Geronimo: An American Legend.” In those and other parts Studi broke new ground, bringing fully developed Native American characters to the screen, and highlighting the success of Native Americans in non-traditional roles.

Studi, who was born in Oklahoma and spoke only Cherokee until he was five years old, he joined the U.S. Army and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. He did a one-year Vietnam War tour with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta. After his honorable discharge, Studi was active in the American Indian Movement. He began his acting career in 1984 after studying at the American Indian Theater Company in Tulsa.

In addition to acting, Wes Studi is a stone carver and musician and has written children’s books. His In 2013, he was inducted in to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers.

Doug Peacock

The author and environmentalist Doug Peacock, who served two tours as an Army Special Forces medic in the Vietnam War, will receive the VVA Excellence in the Arts Awards at the Saturday night Awards Banquet.

Best known for his best-selling memoir, Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness, Peacock’s other books include his war memoir, Walking It Off: A Veterans Chronicle of War and Wilderness. A former Guggenheim fellow, Peacock was the subject of a feature film, Peacock’s War, about grizzly bears and the Vietnam War. He has appeared on many TV shows, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, and NBC Evening News.

A close friend of the writer Edward Abbey, a leading voice in the Western environmental movement, Peacock—who calls himself a “renegade naturalist and grizzly bear biologist” – lectures regularly about the wilderness and veteran issues. He is chair of the Board of Directors of Round River, which works with indigenous peoples in Africa and North and South America on environmental and conservation issues.

Nick Ut

UPDATE:

Nick Ut, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Vietnam War photographer who was scheduled to receive the President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, will not be able to attend the Convention.

“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the invitation,” he wrote in an email to us on July 15. “I know your event will be an unforgettable experience. I sorrowfully I regret that I will not be able to attend your event. I am deeply sorry that I cannot spend time with such amazing people that weekend and I am grateful to everyone for inviting me. Please give my best to everyone involved.”

Paula Cinko

Paula Cinko grew up in Akron, Ohio, singing and dancing. By the time she was fifteen, she was working summer stock. She moved to New York City at 17 in 1968 to try to make it in show biz. She saw an announcement for an audition for women, 18-21, who were “beautiful” and could sing and dance. It was her first audition and Paul Cinko was hired to become a Golddigger, along with Jackie Chidsey, and she flew to L.A. to join the group.

Along with the other Golddiggers she performed in the summer replacement TV show, Dean Martin Presents the Golddiggers, and in performances on the road, including in Las Vegas. Paula Cinko joined the group on the Bob Hope 1969 tour to Vietnam, which she calls “an overwhelming experience.” She remained in the Golddiggers and returned to Vietnam in 1970 with Bob Hope. “It was very emotional for me,” she said, “a phenomenal experience and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do it.”

Paula Cinko moved back to New York and performed in several Broadway shows before making her living for the next twenty years acting, singing, and dancing in TV commercials in New York and Los Angeles. Today she does volunteer work back home in Ohio.

Rosetta (Cox) Gitlin

Rosie Gitlin—whose father served in the U.S. Air Force for twenty-three years and whose mother was in in the Womens Army Corps in World War II—grew up in Virginia and Springfield, Mass., before moving to California when she was thirteen. She studied ballet, tap and acrobatics and as a teenager decided to be a dancer. Her first job came at age eighteen when she performed in a six-month tour of “Hello Dolly” starring Ginger Rogers.

She met Jackie Chidsey when they both auditioned for the Golddiggers in New York in January of 1969. She then went out to Los Angeles to do the summer Dean Martin show and joined the Bob Hope tour at the end of the year. “It was two weeks with the last week in Vietnam,” she said. “It was the best thing that I ever did. When I went to Vietnam I saw first-hand what it was like to bring joy to other people—in this case thousands of troops.”

After two years as a Golddigger, Rosie Gitlin left the group. She appeared on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In for one season and then worked on other TV shows and in commercials before she left performing in favor of teaching dance. She began part time teaching pre-schoolers. In 1976, she formed Center Stage Dance studio in Los Angeles, which she ran for many years before retiring in 2015.

Jackie Chidsey

Jackie Chidsey, who went to Vietnam with Bob Hope in 1969 and 1970, grew up in Stamford, Connecticut. She started singing and dancing as a child. As a teenager her ambition was to be a member of the famed Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York. During her senior year in high school Jackie Chidsey decided to audition for the Golddiggers as a warm-up for an upcoming audition for the Rockettes—and was one of three young women chosen to join The Goldiggers out of the five hundred who showed up.

Three weeks later, in January of 1969, at age 18, she joined the group in Los Angeles, and spent five years as a Golddigger. She answered the call when Bob Hope asked the members of the group to accompany him to Vietnam in 1969—and again in 1970. “I was honored to do that,” she says.

After retiring as a Golddigger, Jackie Chidsey came back to Connecticut where she owned and operated a dance studio for thirty-two years before recently retiring.