In June of 2015, Brantley Gilbert had a backstage encounter with a man by the name of Justin.

“I don’t know how to put this into words…I’m not really an emotional guy,” Justin told Brantley. “I really have not been out of the house for over two years with my PTSD, except for the occasional trip to the grocery store. What you are doing for us? You have no idea what that’s doing for us soldiers. I don’t know any other way to thank you. I can’t give you a Grammy or a country music award…I could thank you a million times, but for me, I have a gift for you.”

At that moment, Justin put his hand in his pocket. “My blood, sweat and tears are on this,” Justin continued. “I’d like to give you my first purple heart.”

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The two men, who had never met each other, dissolved into tears. And more than a year later, it was these two same men that ended up together again, but this time onstage in front of thousands on Oct. 16 at Red Rocks.

“He takes the time out of his busy ass schedule to make it about the wounded warriors,” Justin said in an onstage tribute to Brantley before he started to cry. “When I met him, I brought my Purple Heart only so if he turned out to be a good guy. I told him I couldn’t give him a Grammy or a gold record, but I could give him my blood, sweat and tears.”

The two then embraced, but Justin still had something more to say.

“Don’t ever forget that the real heroes never came home,” Justin told the audience over the growing chants of U-S-A. “The only way you can honor them is to never forget, just like Brantley does every time he’s around. He helped save my life. Thank you.”

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In an Instagram post shared later that night, Brantley commented about what the moment meant to him. “There are no words…. Life has given us an amazing stage to reach people, and sometimes you run into people who help you realize that…. So proud to have my friend Justin on stage who has sacrificed so much for our country and given us the opportunity to do what we do every day.”

Tricia Despres is the contributing editor for Rare Country, based out of Chicago, Illinois. Join the conversation on Twitter at @RareCountry. We would love to see y’all there.
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