Former President George W. Bush basked in the spotlight Wednesday night before a packed house of 2,300 at the Hilton Americas-Houston, where he was honored with the Patriot Award at the Helping a Hero National Gala.
The event raised more than $3 million for the construction of specially-adapted homes for seriously wounded veterans across the country.
"There is no greater cause than supporting those who are willing to sacrifice on our behalf. "
Speaking for 20 minutes, an energized, upbeat Bush praised the veterans and their families, who were seated at tables across the patriotically-decorated ballroom. "There is no greater cause than supporting those who are willing to sacrifice on our behalf," he said.
It was both a heart-wrenching and heart-warming evening as the wounded veterans told their stories via video and as guests visited individually with the uniformed heroes in attendance, each of whom proudly wore his or her bronze stars and purple hearts.
Bush stated that no president wants to serve during a war but that everyone must play the hand he is dealt no matter how unexpected, adding, "The veterans here tonight have played it extraordinarily well."
In a brief moment of levity, Bush posed the question, "Do I miss the White House?" His deadpan response: "No. I think eight years was plenty and I was glad to return to the promised land."
The star lineup included Tamar Davis singing the National Anthem, Lee Greenwood singing God Bless the USA and Paige Hemmis of Extreme Makeover adding glam notes.
Comedian Dennis Miller served as irreverent master of ceremonies, taking the high road when he praised Helping a Hero founder and national chair Meredith Iler by saying she had earned "a pneumatic tube ride to heaven" for her valiant efforts on behalf of wounded servicemen and women.
Hands-on for the evening were national co-chair Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, gala co-chair Chuck Jenness, honorary gala chair George Strake and auction chairs Jon Deutser, Mace Meeks and Brad Miller.
Spotted in the sea of supporters were Kim and Robert Marling, George Bishop, Rita and Chuck Scianna, Linda and George Turek, Sofia Adrogué and Sten Gustafson, Carin and Todd Barth, Joanne King Herring, Larry Brookshire, Sue Lovell, Cindy Clifford, Bill King, Miya Shay and Gene Wu, Dorothy and Mickey Ables, Karen and Byron Hood and Lisa and David Greenberg.