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Truckload Carriers Association Hosts Gala Benefiting Wreaths Across America (WAA)
Goal is to allow WAA to place remembrance wreaths on every gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of its 150th Anniversary
On Tuesday night, at the Grand Hyatt Washington in Washington, DC, the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) hosted its second annual Gala benefitting Wreaths Across America (WAA), a nonprofit organization that remembers, honors, and teaches about the service and sacrifices of our veterans, active military, and their families. The funds raised this year – about $265,000 – have been targeted for a special purpose: to help WAA place remembrance wreaths on every gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) in honor of the 150th anniversary of the hallowed site. The wreaths will travel to their destination via a week-long truck convoy down the East Coast that will culminate in the wreath-laying ceremony on December 13, 2014, known as Wreaths Across America Day.
A wide mix of dignitaries attended the Gala, including high-ranking military personnel, politicians, many veterans, and representatives from ANC. The trucking industry, long known for its patriotism, was well represented, with numerous individuals from trucking companies and related businesses and organizations in attendance. Dana Perino, co-host of FOX’s The Five and the former press secretary for George W. Bush, served as emcee.
“Last night was a truly inspiring evening,” said Wendy Hamilton, senior manager of sales marketing and training at Pilot Flying J of Knoxville, Tennessee, the company that sponsored Perino’s involvement. “I felt that Dana brought grace and enthusiasm to the Gala. And then to interact with such a group of truly wonderful people — who are clearly dedicated to veterans’ causes and to the mission of Wreaths Across America — was just very special.”
Indeed, each of the more than 200 Gala participants seemed to have their own unique reason for supporting this Gala. Wendy Hershey, wife of Maryland Senator Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., said that her grandfather fought in both World War I and II and is buried at ANC. She got involved because the trucking convoy that carries the wreaths from Maine to Arlington each December has stopped in her hometown for the past few years.
“I strongly believe that young people should be aware of the sacrifices veterans have made for us so we can maintain our freedom,” said Hershey, who works with county administrators to get local schoolchildren involved and is about to launch a new essay contest this year. “When the kids see the long line of trucks parade by with the thousands of wreaths stacked up so high, they go crazy. The high school band plays, and there’s lots of cheering, honking, and excitement. It’s something I know they’ll never forget. In this way, the fallen live on with the next generation.”
A significant portion of the funds raised during the evening came from the Walmart Foundation of Bentonville, Arkansas, which recently became a member of TCA and an official sponsor of the Gala. According to Patrick Simmons, senior director of transportation for Walmart’s Private Fleet, the company gave a $150,000 donation for the second year in a row because its corporate leaders and many associates are committed to the cause.
“We’ve been supporting Wreaths Across America for seven years now and have watched as the numbers of donations, wreaths, and cemeteries served have risen dramatically. Today’s check is just about half of what we give annually, because the rest comes from in-kind transportation donations and monies raised by our Associates for wreaths at specific cemeteries. We hope that all of this, combined with Walmart’s size, scope, and credibility, will serve as inspiration to many other businesses – trucking or otherwise – to get involved with this cause,” he said.
The Gala featured a reception hosted by Randall-Reilly of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as well as a delicious dinner. Speakers included Peter Chiarelli, a four-star, U.S. Army general who is now retired and serves as the chief executive officer of One Mind for Research. The group also heard from Barbara Benard of Columbia, Pennsylvania, former president of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., and Karen and Morrill Worcester of Columbia Falls, Maine, founders of Wreaths Across America.
For entertainment, Gala attendees bid on silent auction prizes such as vacation packages, music systems, jewelry, etc. TravelCenters of America/ Petro Stopping Centers of Westlake, Ohio, offered a “wine grab raffle,” in which participants purchased a wine bottle that could contain any of a variety of wines, ranging from common to very expensive. Some lucky buyers found gift cards taped to the bottoms of their bottles, and all of the purchasers were entered in the grand prize drawing for a bottle of Opus One 2009, arguably among the most famous wines to come from Napa Valley.
The evening concluded with an intimate, acoustic set with country singer Lindsay Lawler, the spokesperson for TCA’s Highway Angel program. She was accompanied by fellow co-writer Chris Roberts and fiddle player Mark Evitts. They debuted a new song, One Mile at a Time, which is dedicated to WAA and the families who have lost loved ones in service to their country.
The second annual Gala was the kickoff to TCA’s fundraising season for WAA. The organization encourages the trucking industry to give generously to the cause by purchasing individual wreaths for $15 each, or an entire box for $120. The wreaths can be purchased at http://www.truckloadofrespect.com/.
Click here to view photos from the event.