By Tricia Sims
The 15th annual American Airlines Sky Ball, a black tie gala, was presented Saturday night, Nov. 11 to honor veterans and raise money for several organizations that help support veterans and their families. The event was hosted at American Airlines hanger 5 in the Dallas Fort- Worth International Airport. For the first time, the event actually occurred on Veterans Day.
Setting a new fundraising record by raising more than $3.1 million, the funds raised by the event will support the Airpower Foundation, whose mission directly supports our nation’s wounded, ill, and injured service members, veterans and their families.
“Every cent we raise tonight pays it forward,” Captain Jim Palmersheim, event chair and senior manager, Military and Veterans Programs at American Airlines, said. “The money goes to the veterans and their families who we could never properly thank enough for the sacrifice they make.”
The Sky Ball had several guest speakers and centered around an education theme this year. One speaker was Arkansas teacher, Martha Cothren, who achieved national attention by taking desks out of her classroom to teach her students about respect for veterans.
“The chair represents so much more,” Cothren said. “It is hard to teach gratitude, courage, sacrifice, honor, integrity, and commitment. Those are the qualities that come from our veterans. How can we teach those qualities to our students? As Americans, we must all realize we all take so much for granite. Because we are Americans, we expect the best. That makes it necessary for us to take drastic measures to make sure our students understand the qualities we want to instill in their lives. I turned to veterans to teach them this lesson.
“We owe so much to these men and women. I promise to always lead our children to know the price that has been paid.”
The Sky Ball education committee held an essay contest which over 100 students entered. Liam Mason, a seventh grader, was named the winner. He wrote about his family’s military roots, his great-grandfather served in WWll.
During the evening, seven students from the DFW area were recognized for designing the Sky Ball XV Challenge Coins, which represent the attributes of the Medal of Honor Foundation’s Character Development Program.
Seventeen of the nation’s 73 living Medal of Honor recipients attended the event. The service of the Medal of Honor recipients present ranged from the Korean War to the Afghanistan War.
A few American Airlines employees volunteered to escort the Medal of Honor recipients.
“They needed pilots to volunteer, and I wanted to help out,” Capt. Greg Holm, pilot for American Airlines, said. “I thought, ‘Oh it’s my turn to help and honor the veterans.’ We escorted them here from their hotels, and then we will escort them back. Also escorting are active duty Marines.
“I was honored to be able to do that,” Ron Zitsch, pilot for American Airlines, said. “I hope I can get off and do it again next year.”
Zitsch was happy to be involved with Sky Ball.
“Any support we can give to our veterans is needed,” Zitsch said. “We have so many veterans who have needs they can’t get cared for. There is just not enough money to go around. Events like this are able to raise money to help those people.”
Medal of Honor recipient Gary Littrell said spending Veterans Day at Sky Ball was the best way to celebrate.
“Anytime I can be with my veterans and the active duty on Veterans Day, is great,” Littrell said. “A lot of people have picnics or something. I want to spend it with my veterans. Those who gave their lives for our freedom.”
Littrell says he owes the military his whole life and is grateful for all it has given him.
“I joined the military when I was 17, and I made a whole career out of it,” Littrell said. “The military was my salvation. When I was 17, I was going in the wrong direction, then the military put me in the right direction. I didn’t have much character development when I was a young child. I didn’t have any parental guidance. When I joined the military, I got plenty of parental guidance from my platoon sergeant, and my squad leaders. Basically, they made a man out of me. I went from a boy to a man in the military.”
Also during the event, 14 new recruits were sworn into the armed services.
To cap off the night with honor, 102-year-old Lt. Col. Richard Cole raised a special toast the veterans with a glass of Hennessy. Cole is the last survivor of the Doolittle Raid, which successfully bombed Japan and delivered a big morale boost for the U.S. just months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1959, the Doolittle Raiders began to meet up every year for a reunion. Every year they toasted with a sip 1896 Hennessy VS cognac, its vintage matching Doolittle’s birth year. At this year’s Sky Ball, Cole toasted with the Hennessy to honor his fallen Doolittle Raiders.
The evening closed with a performance by the iconic music group The Beach Boys.
“I wish they had more events like these,” Beach Boy, Bruce Johnston said.
Saturday night’s gala was the end of three days of events, including a Medal of Honor Bob Hope Award Gala recognizing entertainer Terry Fator and a Salute to the Heroes concert honoring members of the military and law enforcement community who helped with recent natural disasters. Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band; Terry Fator; and America’s Tenor Steve Amerson performed at the concert.