"Those guys really, really do appreciate when you come to pay a call on them," McRaney said. "Especially in an outfit like that where they're in the thick of it and they don't get a lot of rear area type R&R." Even if the celebrities aren't singers or dancers, he said, the troops appreciate those who "just do the 'grip and grin,' who fly in on a chopper, shake hands and sign autographs."
McRaney's exposure to the military was second hand before he volunteered to tour with the USO. Several family members had served, he said, and his scoutmaster was a retired drill instructor. In the 1960's, McRaney said he tried to enlist but was turned down because he was married and had a child.
"When all the people of good sense were trying to get out of the military, 'rocket scientist' here was trying to get in," he said.
Later, McRaney decided he could, in his own way, serve those who serve the nation. "Somewhere right now, there's a young man or a young woman standing watch and protecting me, my family and all the rest of us from people who would very much like to take away our freedoms," he said.
Peoples' attitude toward the military have changed considerably since the war in Vietnam, the actor said. "Nobody supports war," he said, "but from time to time we have to do things. I think people have gotten a lot more sophisticated than they were in the '60s and early '70s and they've done a very good job of separating war from the warrior."
Even if they don't agree with the national policy, he said, people "still tend to be more supportive of the people who have to carry that policy out." Some have reexamined their past stance, he said, realizing they were "out of line to have those feelings about the poor SOB who had to go over there and do that job."
Today, most American's appreciate the military for the job it does, he said, but they aren't "necessarily as knowledgeable about what that job is, and how thin the force is being spread right now with all the missions that are going on and the budget constraints."
Even so, he added, people don't appreciate the military the way they did during World War II. In those days, he said, Americans took care of their men and women in uniform.
"When I was a kid, if we saw a guy in uniform hitchhiking, my father didn't give him a ride to where we were going. My father gave him a ride to where he was going -- unless it was in another state. If there was a G.I. trying to get home, we just took him there."
McRaney has maintained that "anything for the G.I." attitude. He's also shared it with his wife, actress Delta Burke. He spoke of the impact a visit to the Middle East had on Burke.
"We were flying out of Bahrain," he said, "and when the plane banked, you could see troops deploying out in the desert in their Humvees and their Bradleys. Delta turned back to me and there were tears in her eyes when she said, 'Honey, you were right. These people are magnificent.' I want to come back.'"
McRaney described Delta's response after he explained a return visit was unlikely because war in the region was imminent. "She just looked at me like I was nuts, and said, 'Then they'll need to see us more, won't they?'"