By Paul Gable, Editor
"My heroes are those who risk their lives every day to protect our world and make it a better place-police, firefighters, and members of our armed forces." -Sidney Sheldon
Tears, laughs and plenty of remembrance for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice were aplenty Saturday night as the third annual Helping Hands for Freedom Heroes Gala was held at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino.
The event remembers and honors the memories of fallen heroes through the Helping Hands for Freedom initiative, a 501(c)3 nonprofit aimed at helping those who protect America. The organization is based in Arizona, but started with Fairland resident Staff Sgt. Patrick Shannon.
The mission of Helping Hands for Freedom is a simple one. The organization is dedicated to supporting military children and families facing injury, loss and deployment. The organization aims to improve children's lives through compassion, honor, mentorship and leadership programs.
The night featured several awards, along with a guest appearance by Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, whose foundation provides scholarship assistance to the sons and daughters of military personnel.
"Any man or woman willing to die for our country is one of the baddest things a person can do. I am honored to be here tonight," said McAfee, who urged those in attendance to reach deeper into their pockets during a live auction featuring several Colts autographed items.
The theme for this year's event was, "The Fallen."
"When is enough, enough? We honored 38 Gold Star families," said Darin Fishburn, CEO of Helping Hands for Freedom.
The night belonged to those who put others before themselves.
The Timothy J. Laird Award was awarded to Indianapolis Metro Police officer Rob Turner.
The award is named after Laird, who was an Indianapolis Metro Police officer who died in 2004 when officers responded to numerous 911 calls from neighbors reporting gunfire in the 2700 block of Dietz Street on the near south side of Indianapolis.
In addition, Indianapolis Metro Police officer Steve "Tex" Randall was also honored for the work he does for police and military families.
"The real heroes are those who serve," Randall said.
The biggest award, however, was reserved for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chris Bain, who was honored as the 2015 Wounded Warrior of the Year.
"Chris has a bigger heart than anyone you will ever meet. He was ambushed in Iraq and the quick action by him saved lives. He got blown up for his country and spent 3½ years in Walter Reed. He is a living legend," Fishburn told those in attendance while introducing Bain.
Bain was in Taji, Iraq, in 2004 when his interpreter marked him as a target. Immediately, mortar rounds landed and Bain was struck. Bain endured 18 surgeries and has an electronic battery pack inserted in his body.
"It is an honor to be with my brothers and sisters. I am not supposed to be here like this. I was to have been a triple amputee. I've got my arms and legs. I went back to school and got a degree. Every day I wake up, is like a holiday for me," Bain said.
For Fishburn, the gala is what he truly enjoys about his job.
"We pay tribute every year to men and women and tell their stories. Last year, we honored Marines from Vietnam, who for the first time, got to tell their stories. Seeing the heroes every day and the stories that don't get told are what I enjoy. I have made many friends over the years that I wish I didn't know because it means we met under the worst of circumstances," Fishburn said.
As for whether the event was a success, Fishburn said, "Yes!"
"I measure the event by our feedback. We were blessed, as a charity, to have our first-ever sellout. The fact that this community rallies around our military heroes makes me realize how wonderful Hoosier hospitality really is. From a financial standpoint, we met all of our goals and exceeded our expectations. With heavyweight champ Lamon Brewster and Pat McAfee on our team, no one could kick us out of the ring. What an amazing honor it is to lead such an amazing charity with the supporting board and co-founders," Fishburn said.
For more information on Helping Hands for Freedom, call 602-845-1390.
Paul Gable is the editor of The Shelbyville News. Follow Gable on Twitter @PaulGableTSN.