For the last 30 years, a group of volunteer entertainers called 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 has 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 was to perform at the San Antonio VA hospital, but when the eight performers and two technicians got up Sunday morning, their truck, trailer and equipment were gone from the 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.
The pickup truck may now be in the hands of druglords, but in the trailer that was attached to it was everything Re-Creation needs to entertain veterans: $120,000 in costumes and equipment.
"I think they are taking it as seriously as they can, but they gave me no hope of recovery," Muller said. "He said it's gone, the trailer is gone, the equipment is gone, we'll put it in the system and see what we can do."
Without the costumes, props and stage equipment, the group is headed home.
Upcoming shows at the Hines VA hospital near Chicago are canceled along with two other metro Chicago veterans hospital dates.
The longtime organizer of Re-Creation, a former downstate Illinois schoolteacher, says he and his volunteers are not the losers.
"What we've lost is nothing in comparison to what the men and women who are recuperating in these facilities has lost," said Muller.
San Antonio police say they haven't even assigned a detective to the case and it happened last weekend.
If -- as investigators believe -- the thieves just wanted the pickup truck, then all of the stage gear was probably just thrown out.