Local couple to host second gala benefitting veterans
By Holly A. PhillipsPosted Oct 31, 2012
Michael “Scott” Lamana was the first person from Louisiana killed in the September 11 attacks, working at the Pentagon as a briefer for the chief of naval operations. Lamana was born in Baton Rouge and attended Catholic High School with a classmate that would later spread awareness about servicemen like Lamana. That man, Matt Reames, along with his wife Danielle Smith, have made the military a focus of their generosity.
“Giving back to the military has been our mission as a couple,” Smith said. “These guys are dying for us everyday so we can have our freedom.”
For the second year in a row, the pair is hosting their Never Quit Never Forget Gala, which honors local wounded veterans and families of the fallen. Proceeds will benefit Wounded Wear, Special Ops Survivors, and the U.S Naval Sea Cadet Corps.
Reames has been interested in the military since childhood, as his uncle served in Vietnam and his great uncle was a bomber in World War II. While he never joined the military, he continued to learn about their work.
“Our whole library is military history,” Smith said. “We even get World War II magazine. That’s his fascination.”
Smith didn’t understand Reames’ fascination until he convinced her to read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell in 2010. Lone Survivor is the story of Operation Redwing, a mission that lead to the largest loss (killing 19) of life in Navy SEAL history, until August of 2011 when 30 SEALS were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“Jacques Fontan was killed in that operation and he’s from New Orleans,” Smith said. “That tie-in came really close to home for me.”
Smith and Reames traveled to Houston to attend the Lone Survivor Foundation kickoff gala where they met wounded veterans with inspiring stories, including Nick Rocha. Rocha, a Navy SEAL, started the Special Ops Survivors organization, which benefits surviving spouses of all Special Operations personnel, including Fontan’s wife. “Nick [Rocha] had said to us, ‘There are reasons why you meet certain people,’” Smith said. “And as we were leaving, I said, ‘We have to do something.’”
Smith and Reames then came up with “Never Quit Never Forget” to encompass their mission of spreading awareness about servicemen and women sacrificing everyday. The pair considered hosting a golf tournament, but settled on the gala.
“Sure, it would be a fundraiser, but we wanted people to meet the wounded guys, to hear their loss,” Smith said. “It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s also lots of stories of triumph.”
Last year’s gala was attended by 350 people, raising nearly $84,000 for wounded veterans. This year’s gala, to be held Nov. 9 at the Renaissance Hotel, will feature guest appearances by Lt. Jason Redman, the founder of Wounded Wear, which provides clothing and clothing modifications to wounded service members while spreading awareness about their sacrifices. Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in United States military history (with 160 confirmed kills), and author of the New York Times bestselling American Sniper, will also make an appearance at the gala. Guests can also enjoy food, a full bar, music, and a silent auction.
“A big part of the gala is awareness,” Smith said. “To us, these guys are the real superstars, not the movie stars.”
After meeting several wounded veterans, Smith said her family life has changed.
“Our lives have been enriched by their stories,” she said. “We’ve started doing boot camps and cross fit training as a family to be more healthy. We appreciate life more, and all that we have. It also makes us appreciate each other.”
Smith remembers feeling a renewed sense of patriotism in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, but admits becoming complacent as years passed, until she became involved with Never Quit Never Forget.
“We’re able to enjoy the quiet because they’re over there keeping the terrorists from coming over here,” she said. “You should never forget that there’s people sacrificing for us.”
Never Quit Never Forget Gala
Friday, Nov. 9, 2012
7000 Bluebonnet Blvd.
7 p.m.-10 p.m.
Tickets are $100 and can be purchased at www.NeverQuitNeverForget.org. Proceeds benefit Wounded Wear, Special Ops Survivors, and the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps.