WASHINGTON — Outside on the gridlocked streets of this the nation’s capital, thousands began gathering Tuesday hoping for a glimpse of Pope Francis during public ceremonies held Wednesday and Thursday in honor of the first visit to America of the Catholic faith’s spiritual and inspirational leader.
Inside in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Washington, some 220 trucking industry stakeholders gathered for an inspirational — and you might even say spiritual — evening of their own — the third annual Truckload Carriers Association gala benefiting Wreaths Across America (WAA) and during an upbeat evening where tears rivaled cheers for the nation’s veterans, raised about $320,000 for the nonprofit organization that honors the fallen by placing fresh wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery and more than 1,000 other veterans’ cemeteries nationwide.The event attracted representatives from many genres, including government, the military/veterans, media, entertainment, and, of course, the trucking industry, which is well known for its patriotism.
TCA has been an avid supporter of and partner with Wreaths Across America for years, and has come to play a vital role in coordinating logistics and truck driver/equipment support for WAA’s wreath-laying efforts each December.
“With the Pope in town, it was a little tricky getting here, but it was worth it,” said TCA Chairman Keith Tuttle. “By coming together annually, we are reminded of what a wreath on a grave has come to represent … eternity and a symbol of peace. Each and every time one of our member trucks drives into a cemetery loaded down with hundreds of fresh wreaths on behalf of Wreaths Across America, it’s the trucking industry’s way of saying, ‘We remember. And we give our thanks.’”
Speaker after speaker brought the audience to its feet with stories of heroism on the battlefield.
But there were tears and dry throats as those same speakers talked about the wounds and even death that are the inevitable part of heroism.
They heard and cheered as Mary Byers, a past president of American Gold Star Mothers, talked about her son, Capt. Joshua Byers, lying mortally wounded on the battlefield in Iraq in the summer of 2003 after his Humvee was blown up by an IED, summoning the strength to tell his driver to “keep moving forward.” Her challenge was for TCA and WAA to keep moving forward in the effort to place wreaths on the graves of every American veteran each December.
They heard the Rev. Lloyd Byers thank God for the work of TCA and WAA.
They heard and cheered Col. Jack Jacobs, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for heroism in Vietnam, when he said that every American owes to their country a time of service in the military.
They heard and cheered Karen Worchester, executive director of Wreaths Across America, when she told the trucking industry that without its support WAA could not achieve its mission and expressed thanks for the carriers and drivers who volunteer their time and equipment to move the wreaths to the various cemeteries.
They heard Worchester’s husband Morrill announce plans in 2016, the year of WAA’s 25th anniversary, to begin efforts to raise funds to build The Flagpole of Freedom in Maine in what would become the world’s tallest flagpole at 1,000 feet and which would become the highest public monument in America. In comparison, the flagpole would be almost twice as tall as the Washington Monument. The flag itself would be 155 feet tall and 290 feet wide, would be made of Kevlar and stainless steel mesh and would weigh 2,600 pounds.
But the biggest ovation of the evening was for retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, who on April 10, 2012, was critically injured on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan by an IED while on patrol, losing portions of both legs and both arms, and who is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries.
Mills shared his time of despair after suffering the injuries, but how he now lives by the motto “never give up, never quit.”
Mills, who walked on the stage with prosthetic legs and wearing a prosthetic left arm, left the audience speechless with his optimism and enthusiasm.
In September 2013, he founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to benefit and assist wounded and injured veterans.
Mills, who is married and has a daughter, has authored “Tough as They Come,” a book about his experiences which will be on sale October 27.
“It was chilling, yet inspirational, to hear the personal stories of military service as told by our speakers. They are all true heroes,” said Wendy Hamilton from Pilot Flying J and who also serves as one of the co-chairs of TCA’s Communications & Image Policy Committee. “Each of them embodies the spirit of Wreaths Across America: to remember and honor those who have sacrificed so much for America.”
A significant portion of the funds raised during the evening came from the Walmart Foundation of Bentonville, Arkansas. Patrick Simmons, senior director of transportation for Walmart’s Private Fleet, said that 2015 marks the third consecutive year that the company is donating $150,000 through TCA’s Gala.
“Walmart is grateful for the sacrifices that our nation’s veterans and their families have made in service to our country,” he said. “We believe in the mission of Wreaths Across America. We agree that it is not only our duty, but our honor to support our men and women in uniform.”
Proceeds from the Gala are the starting point for TCA’s 2015 fundraising season for WAA. The organization encourages the trucking industry to give generously to the cause by making a donation in any amount or by purchasing individual wreaths for $15 each. The wreaths can be purchased at www.TruckloadOfRespect.com.
TCA is the only national trade association whose collective sole focus is the truckload segment of the motor carrier industry. The association represents dry van, refrigerated, flatbed and intermodal container carriers operating in the 48 contiguous states, as well as Alaska, Mexico, and Canada. Representing operators of more than 200,000 trucks, which collectively produce annual revenue of more than $20 billion, TCA is an organization tailored to specific truckload carrier needs.
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