“Freedom is a precious, precious thing.”
Those words were spoken by actor Gary Sinise to a group of insurance professionals on Sunday during an event at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas hosted by the “Swett Warriors” organization.
Several large firms in the insurance industry took part in the event to raise funds and awareness for injured veterans in conjunction with Creech Air Force Base in Las Vegas. One hundred wounded veterans and more than 700 industry professionals were the event.
Sinise was at the event as a speaker and as part of Gary Sinise & the Lt. Dan Band. Sinise’ band is named after his character in the film “Forrest Gump,” for which Sinise earned an Academy Award nomination for his role as an injured veteran. Sinise also raises funds through his Gary Sinise foundation.
Another actor that took part was John Ratzenberger, known as the factoid-dispensing postman in the “Cheers” sitcom and for his voice over work on Pixar animated films. Ratzenberger spoke during a dinner and following a parade honoring veterans that took place in the winding halls of the Cosmopolitan.
“It’s a little known fact that I also spent 11 years in uniform,” Ratzenberger said, delivering a pause and then his punch line: “Sure it was a Postal uniform.”
Later during a gala dinner event Ratzenberger introduced three Medal of Honor reciepients from the Vietnam War: Bruce Crandall, James Taylor and Mike Thorton.
A focus of the event was on the men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with life-altering injuries. They have experience, skill sets and ambition, but when many of them try to reclaim civilian life, they struggle, according to event organizers, who say the mission of “Swett Warriors” is to help those wounded veterans obtain productive lives, jobs, and the prospect of a brighter future.
According to a statement on a the Swett Warriors website, Swett & Crawford employees saw a need to raise public awareness for returning service members.
“After finding out that nearly 50,000 troops were injured in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, these Swett employees discovered that many of these warriors were returning home with combat-related injuries and medical and psychological challenges,” according to the statement. “Additionally, these warriors needed jobs, stability and an opportunity to resume their lives.”
Neal Abernathy, president and CEO of Swett & Crawford, told Insurance Journal that Swett has been raising funds through an event for wounded warriors under the radar for the last few years to “keep our motives pure,” and to ensure the cause was to help wounded warriors and not promote the company, but they have now decided to publicize the event to increase involvement.
Organizers hope to raise $1 million from the weekend event. Abernathy said $100,000 was raised internally from employee contributions, and another $400,000 was raised by corporate sponsors. Over the last few years more than $2.5 million has been raised for the cause, he said.
“It’s just inspiring,” he said of the turnout at the event and the cause. “It’s recognizing that there’s something more important than what we do.”
Other entertainment at the event included Las Vegas ventriloquist and impressionist Terry Fator, country music artist Phil Vandel, along with several ceremonies and celebrations for wounded veterans along with their tales of perseverance.
Sinise, who played with his band at the end of the evening, spoke to the audience and encouraged them to give.
“These are our freedom providers,” he said, then to the wounded veterans he added, “thank you for everything you do for our country, we can never repay you.”
During a luncheon filled with insurance professionals, celebrities, veterans and wounded soldiers on Sunday artist Phil Taylor presented a portrait of U.S. Marine Cpl. Christopher Scherer, who was killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007, to his family members. Taylor through The American Fallen Soldiers Project provides free portraits to families of fallen soldiers.
Also speaking during the luncheon was Maureen Murphy, mother of Medal of Honor recipient Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005. Since his death a U.S. Navy destroyer was named after Murphy.
His mother told a story of how he had been interested helping others since childhood, and she paid tribute to the soldiers in the crowd.
“We are blessed to have so many American heroes in this room today,” she said.