"Yellowstone" star Cole Hauser on helping kids of fallen service members

·5 min read

Cole Hauser's "Yellowstone" character Rip Wheeler is the quintessential cowboy: Ruthless and loyal to a fault.

It's a world away from the actor's personal passion — the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides educational scholarships for the surviving children of fallen Special Operations personnel as well as Medal of Honor recipients.

"I'm a big fan of second chances," Hauser told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge. "For kids when they lose a family member … it's a huge loss for them and the idea that they have a second chance to go and educate themselves."

The charity, based in Tampa, Florida, started in the aftermath of the failed attempt to rescue 52 American hostages in Tehran that ended in disaster April 24, 1980. The foundation's president, Clay Hutmacher, told CBS News their work began as a "battlefield promise" to care for the 17 children left behind by the eight Americans killed.

As more resources became available, Hutmacher said the foundation expanded its programs. Their catch phrase is "cradle to career," to include pre-school, tutoring, special needs programs as well as post-secondary education.

The charity has awarded 1,100 educational scholarships.

"Maybe it's just my way of serving… this country, the soldiers, their families," Hauser said.

That quiet service that began two decades ago includes a USO tour in Afghanistan. Hauser also told CBS News about his private visits to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., as U.S. forces surged in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"There was about four or five guys that that I stayed in touch with for many, many years, some of (whom) committed suicide, unfortunately," Hauser said. "Some are still alive and doing well. But it was a very kind of educational time for me as a young man."

Hauser's down-to-earth style is a quality he shares with his character on "Yellowstone," a hit series on Paramount+, which is part of CBS News' parent company Paramount Global. That style has helped him connect with severely wounded service members, including one triple amputee.

"I walked in… and I go, 'God, you look like a rat's a**,'"  Hauser recalled. "It was that kind of humor guys have at times, but it got him to smile. And then we would start talking and... it breaks the ice."

Hauser sits on the charity's board of directors and recently worked with Hutmacher to expand scholarships to Special Operations families who lose a non-military parent.

"When they're calculating what they're going to do in the future, funding of their children's education is not part of that equation. We got that," Hutmacher said.

Retired Green Beret Luis Howk, his late wife Sydney, and their two children.
Retired Green Beret Luis Howk, his late wife Sydney, and their two children.

The inspiration was a soldier who CBS News is calling "David" for security reasons. Hutmacher told CBS News that David had recently lost his wife to cancer and was sitting in the church pews at a Fort Bragg memorial service along with their three surviving children.

"I thought, these spouses play a critical role in our service members' lives and their ability to serve… We should honor their service," Hutmacher said.

Retired Green Beret Luis Howk's two children are among the first recipients. As Howk deployed overseas, he and his wife, Sydney, used his military tuition assistance money to finance her dream of becoming a midwife.

"She had a passion for helping women like her and helping their babies," Howk said. "I was super, super proud of her."

Shortly after graduation, Sydney was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. When she died, Howk became a single dad with no savings for college. Then, the foundation stepped in.

Asked what it meant to have the burden lifted, Howk said, "Honestly, it feels like love. And to have an organization and supporters that care about children and their future whom they've never met. I mean. It's love."

After his interview, Howk introduced us to Alyssa. Nine years ago, her first husband, Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Gavulic, also in Special Operations, was killed in a training accident.

The couple recently married. The foundation's scholarships will meet the needs of Lou and Alyssa's new, blended family.

"It really opened up the doors for us to have a shared vision for the future where all of our children will be taken care of," Alyssa Gavulic Howk said.

For this Hollywood veteran, Hauser's mission to ease the burden on military families began with a ring, bearing the marine corps emblem, gifted to him by his grandfather Milton Sperling, a World War II marine at Iwo Jim's, a Hollywood producer and screenwriter.

Hauser said he wants to carry on that legacy of commitment to his craft and to supporting military families.

"I think it's as good as it gets as a human, like just the human element of wanting to help. Just to see somebody go through that moment of like grace," Hauser said.

On this Memorial Day, Howk said, "I always told friends of mine, 'You serve long enough, you're going to lose a lot of friends, especially in this war… It's okay to mourn. Grief is a lifelong rollercoaster, but the best way that you could honor those that you love and that you've lost is to live the life that they would want for you to live.'"

Retired Green Beret Luis Howk and his family.
Retired Green Beret Luis Howk and his family.

Microsoft's Brad Smith on "real concern" about Chinese malware targeting infrastructure

What's the connection between hurricanes and climate change?

First on CBS: All 5 South Carolina "sister senators" slam passage of 6-week abortion ban