OME 500 people, half of them from the military, gave Jon Voight a standing ovation after he apologized for his indiscretion of opposing American troops fighting in Vietnam.
Serving as emcee of the 47th USO of Metropolitan New York Armed Forces Gala at Cipriani 42nd St., the actor said he "regrets my arrogant ignorant days."
"In the late 60s," he said, "I was one of those young people who protested against the Vietnam War. I am ashamed of that."
Voight condemned Bill Ayers, the anti-war activist who co-founded the Weather Underground, the radical left group that bombed public buildings. Today Ayers is a respected professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"That he still has a platform is despicable," Voight said.
The actor said he’s sad that "our men in Vietnam were not given a hero’s welcome. Our country turned against them. We still have people who keep trying to break America down. They even tried to discredit General Petraeus."
Voight called for the establishment of a legal holiday to honor the Vietnam vets who fought the longest war in American history.
The honored guests at the USO gala were Gen. David Petraeus, who led the multinational forces in Iraq and now heads the U.S. Central Command, and Howard Levitt, president and CEO of Tourneau, the watch company.
In the presence of 250 smartly dressed members of all branches of the armed forces, Levitt accepted a Gold Medal from New York USO chairman Stephen J. Scheffer.
"Howard is the son of Holocaust survivors and grew up in the all-American county of Queens," Scheffer said. In an attempt to place him in context of the military theme of the evening, Scheffer called Levitt "an admiral in the Jewish navy."
"Levitt is responsible for the security of northern Long Island and Miami Beach. He’s doing a great job. There’ve been no invasions."
Jon Voight reminisced on his 1972 thriller Deliverance. He said when Burt Reynolds came to join the cast, he wasn’t a star yet. Day after day Reynolds would sit in Voight’s chair.
Finally Voight asked, "I just can’t figure out why you’re sitting in my chair."
"I’m glad you asked," Reynolds said. "When I sit on your chair, I can see my name on my chair."
Voight even had a story for the military. He told about a guy who retired after a long career in the Army. He couldn’t find a decent job so he worked as a bagger at a supermarket.
But he had a habit of coming late to work.
One day the store owner asked, "I know you were in the Army. What did they tell you when you were constantly late?"
"When I showed up they would ask, ‘General, what would you like, tea or coffee?’"