Tom Hanks Honored at Heroes and History Makers Gala

Courtesy of The Dole Foundation
From left: Elizabeth Dole, Peggy Noonan, Bob Dole, Savannah Guthrie, Tom Hanks, Jon Meacham and executive director of the Dole Foundation, Steve Schwab

The inaugural D.C. event, co-hosted by Senators Elizabeth and Bob Dole, also honored Susan Collins and Nancy Pelosi. Savannah Guthrie served as emcee.

There was plenty of patriotism on the menu last night at the Washington Hilton in D.C., where Tom Hanks was honored at the Heroes and History Makers gala, hosted by Elizabeth and Bob Dole and sponsored by her eponymous foundation that supports military families and caregivers.

The event drew a bipartisan crowd of more than 600 military veterans, caregivers and well-heeled Washingtonians. Hanks serves as the Chair of the foundation’s Hidden Heroes campaign, which raises both funds and awareness for the people who care for veterans who’ve sustained physical or mental trauma on the battlefield.

Savannah Guthrie, who served as the evening’s emcee, is the campaign’s newly appointed ambassador. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi also received the foundation’s first Congressional Caregiver Awards for championing the Hidden Heroes cause in Congress.

According to everyone present, Dole is as charming and persuasive on the Hill as Hanks is in Hollywood: "When Elizabeth calls, you will say yes eventually, so you might as well just do what she asks right away," remarked soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The spouse of an injured military veteran and caregiver herself, Dole first recognized the significant, and largely unseen, need for caregiver support during her husband’s 2010 stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In a speech that aimed to both buoy our national unity and rebuff partisanship, Dole said, "Leaders who can look beyond superficial divisions and see the good in one another are more effective in solving our nation’s biggest challenges. ... That’s what great leaders do — they don’t pass the blame or responsibility to someone else, they stand ready to make the hard decisions and live with failure or success."

As for Hanks’ involvement in Dole’s organization, it all started when the two connected after Hanks helped her husband with the planning of D.C.’s WWII memorial. "I was in the Rolodex — I was on speed dial," Hanks affably joked. "I told my staff, 'I’m headed out to meet with Senator Dole. When I come back, I’ll be involved with something.'"

Through his on-screen and behind-the-scenes work in projects such as Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and HBO’s Band of Brothers, Hanks has sought to advance a broader understanding of what it means to serve your country on the battlefield. So, what does he think Hollywood should be doing to advance our understanding of what military caregivers endure?

"The best way is to tell the true story — be authentic about it and not mythologize or make it seem easier or worse than it really is," Hanks told The Hollywood Reporter. "The reality is…these are people just trying to get on with the rest of their lives after huge change has been brought about [after these] men and women served in the military."

"I don’t know that Hollywood could create an authentic story about Iraq or Afghanistan, where people are on their fourth or fifth or sixth tour of duty, that could not be told much, much better by a documentary or a caring news media," Hanks added. "We argue about this all the time, what’s going to be the best venue for the story that needs to be told. And many, many times it’s not a Hollywood movie. It’s something else, and the trick there is how to get eyeballs on it."

As for whether he’d be willing to talk to President Trump about the cause, Hanks gamely replied, "In order to help wounded veterans and caregivers that are working so hard to take care of them, I’d be happy to twist anybody’s arm."

Dole, a lifelong Republican, noted that the campaign already had the support of Vice President Pence. Meanwhile, in her acceptance speech, Pelosi pointed out that "there is nothing partisan about fighting for our nation’s military caregivers" and that the bill had received support from notable Republicans, including the late John McCain, making this a truly bipartisan event.