For the last 30 years, Re-Creation has crisscrossed the nation putting on happy shows for American veterans at U.S. VA hospitals.
They do more than 300 shows a year, but the traveling troupe had to cancel its upcoming shows at Chicago-area VA hospitals and dozens elsewhere after all of their equipment was stolen.
The group's inspiring story -- including volunteer young people from downstate Illinois who bring smiles to thousands of ailing veterans every year -- was interrupted early Sunday morning in San Antonio, Texas.
The group performed at the San Antonio VA hospital, but when the eight performers and two technicians got up Sunday morning, $120,000 in costumes and equipment were gone from their Motel 6 parking lot.
"The police came, they told us that those kinds of trucks, Ford F250s, are very popular because they are run down to Mexico and used for all kinds of activities down there," said Re-Creation director Jay Muller.
San Antonio police found the truck at 6 a.m. on a dead end road 16 miles from where members of Re-Creation parked it. A screw driver is still jammed into the steering column and the driver's side door was damaged during the break in.
Members of the joy spreading group are heading to Texas to retrieve the truck. Re-Creation director Muller says he will start rescheduling shows if enough of their equipment is recovered and in working order. Muller hopes the group will be in Chicago at the end of the month for previously planned shows at the Hines VA hospital near Chicago and two other metro Chicago veterans hospitals.
The longtime organizer of Re-Creation, a former downstate Illinois schoolteacher, says he and his volunteers never felt like the losers in this theft.
"What we've lost is nothing in comparison to what the men and women who are recuperating in these facilities has lost," said Muller.