Despite intense gridlock in Washington, D.C. on the day of the Pope’s arrival, a “who’s who” of dignitaries braved transportation nightmares to participate in the Truckload Carriers Association’s (TCA) third annual Gala benefiting Wreaths Across America (WAA). The upbeat and inspirational event, held at the Grand Hyatt Washington, raised about $320,000 for the nonprofit organization that honors the fallen by placing fresh wreaths on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery and at more than 1,000 veterans cemeteries nationwide.
The Gala, hosted by Pilot Flying J, Freightliner, and Randall-Reilly, 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 WAA for years, and has come to play a vital role in coordinating logistics and truck driver/equipment support for WAA’s annual wreath-laying efforts each December.
“With the Pope in town, it was a little tricky getting here, but it was worth it!” said Keith Tuttle, TCA’s chairman. “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.’”
In between the opening reception and dinner, Lloyd and Mary Byers spoke from their hearts about the pain of losing their son, Captain Joshua Byers, who died in Iraq in 2003. Colonel Jack Jacobs (Ret.), a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War who is now an NBC on-air analyst, shared how his military experiences shaped his career and changed him forever. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills (Ret.) gave the keynote address. He lost both of his arms and legs while on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2012, and he continually fights to overcome the many obstacles of living life as a quadruple amputee.
“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.”
Additional corporate donations came from Rand McNally and Shell Rotella, while individual employees from the Prosperio Group and MacroPoint contributed their own generous amounts.
For entertainment, Gala attendees bid on silent auction prizes such as vacation packages, music systems, jewelry, etc. Many people opted to play cornhole, earning a chance to win a pair of rose gold and diamond earrings every time they scored a hole-in-one.
TravelCenters of America/Petro Stopping Centers offered a “wine bottle grab”—bags containing a wine bottle of unknown vintage, ranging from common to very expensive. In addition to receiving the wine, some lucky buyers found a $100 gift card enclosed. MacroPoint created and sold collectible trucks, some hauling $100 bills in their trailers. And DriverFACTS, Inc. offered complimentary digital photos of the attendees. The company will later add to fundraising efforts by selling a hardbound book commemorating the evening and the wreath-laying ceremony in December.
After all the speakers, social, and fundraising activities concluded, Gala participants enjoyed lively patriotic music by the Patriot Brass Ensemble, a group that improves the quality of life for veterans and military families through musical programs and services.
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.
See photos from the event in our Flickr album.