A BLUE SPANGLED EYE-OPENER
SARATOGA SPRINGS- Saratoga WarHorse Foundation held their Fifth Annual Blue Spangled Evening Gala at The Hall of Springs on Monday, August 14. This Foundation benefits our Veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and related mental illnesses. These may occur because of a life-altering or threatening experience in the military which can cause mood swings and depression long after our Veterans return home.
Saratoga WarHorse is a not-for-profit foundation that offers free therapy sessions to veterans, centering around both the Veterans and retired thoroughbreds – working together side-by-side, leading to a phenomenal breakthrough of understanding. That concept was brought home most to me by Troy Huggard, a Veteran who is a WarHorse Graduate – Huggard was one of many impressive speakers on this Blue Spangled Evening.
The evening began with Cocktails and Hors D’oeuvres, accompanied by several silent auction items. A Welcome speech from Foundation Chairman Brian Spearman.
Then, a show-stopper: Cassendra MacDonald sang the National Anthem with grace and glory.
After dinner, inspirational guest speakers Brigadier General Jeffrey W. Foley (ret.) and Troy Huggard spoke of their experiences in the military, which warmed the hearts of Veterans and other attendees. And what would a Gala in Saratoga be without the voice of horse racing’s Tom Durkin – tonight the auctioneer of a reverse auction – which kept the crowd alive with his genial sense of humor.
Everyone was dressed to impress for the Hollywood style red carpet event and full of supportive pride – and commitment – down the line.
For more information, visit saratogawarhorse.com
PHOTO INTERLUDE ONE:
Your orders: Press Play / Scroll Down / Enjoy our “Khaki Carpet”!
PHOTO INTERLUDE TWO:
THE SURVIVOR’S COMMITMENT
SARATOGA SPRINGS – “This is some serious stuff,” Bella said to me – big-eyed – at one point during the Blue Spangled Evening. Indeed it was.
When you have retired Generals reminding the audience that “We are at war” now – today – things tend to take on a serious tone. This is no frivolous fun fantasy gala. Much enjoyment, yes. But at the same time, you are struck by the fervor of the attendees: the commitment to a cause that is ultimately the responsibility of those who served and survived military service, to those who did not and came home damaged. The commitment to their healing, re-orientation and recovery – this is the fervor you felt – with each donation barked out during the reverse auction; with the pious attention paid to Cassendra MacDonald’s National Anthem – to the point that I felt guilty snapping pictures even. But that is my role, to document and chronicle the commitment. And so I shall. And here’s why:
I survived. And I feel guilty about the circumstance.
It was 1973, and a then young 17 year-old was waiting for the paper to be delivered. It would tell him his future.
The Vietnam War was starting to wind down; it was pretty much acknowledged by both hawks and doves that this was going South. For those who did not live through this era, our inevitable exit was delayed by the grasping for a concept called “Peace with Honor” – though most military strategists that I have talked to recognize that ALL peace is honorable, albeit elusive – and, I kid you not – the shape of the peace talk negotiating table!
The boy waiting for the paper was waiting for his draft lottery number. In those days, there was no volunteer armed forces, and frankly, given the state of the conflict, very few enlisted without being told to in 1973.
The paper came. I remember it like yesterday. The New York Times had the numbers below the fold. I flipped it over and found my birthday…
Number 262 out of 365 – safe.
I must tell you that since that day I have never played a lottery ticket. I felt it only fair, since I won big on that day.
This was confirmed to me years later by a man named Jim Smith of Greenfield Center, who I interviewed a few years ago for a Veterans Day piece. Jim was one of the few remaining survivors at the time of the WWII Pacific Theater, specifically Iwo Jima and other points that led to America’s victory over Japan. He has since passed, but has written many books about his experiences that I would share with anyone that asked. When I first met Jim, I naturally thanked him for his service.
He responded: “Thank you. It was not my pleasure.” And then proceeded to tell me tales of graphic carnage. Today, we see the image of the flag raised, and get a distorted picture.
For war is hell. And make no mistake, said General Foley in his remarks – we are at war today.
But back in the 70s I was spared the hell of war. But not it’s aftermath. Friends who never came home. Friends who came home wounded – physically, which could be seen; and mentally – which we were just beginning to understand.
Today we understand all too well. Which is why the mood, though festive and hopeful – was tempered by commitment – and obligation.
I recognize that long ago, the Lord bestowed upon me the ability to communicate. I like to think that it is to chronicle and put in perspective evenings like this.
As long as there is a need, I will be there to help causes like this. It’s only fair to make this commitment – down the line.
Because others have made much greater sacrifices. And will, I’m afraid.
It is my honor to lend whatever I can do. As a survivor, it is my commitment – down the line.
August 21, 2017