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American Image Awards Pay Tribute to the Military

The annual black-tie gala raised $1.3 million for the Wounded Warriors Project and honored Saks, New Balance, Rebecca Minkoff and The Jones Group’s Wes Card.

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Rebecca Minkoff  American Apparel and Footwear Association American Image Awards Intrepid Museum New York City NYC 2013

Rebecca Minkoff

Photo By Dan D'Errico

The 35th annual American Image Awards Thursday night were transformed into a rousing tribute to the American military. From the location aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum to the military chorus belting out an armed-forces medley, the annual black-tie gala raised $1.3 million for the Wounded Warriors Project — and the collective consciousness of the attendees, who left with a renewed appreciation for U.S. veterans.

Actor Bill Pullman, keynote speaker, kidded that he was an unlikely choice for that duty, but was selected for his latest work, “Healing Wars,” a multimedia project about innovations in medical treatment during the Civil War and the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hosted by Broadway veterans Bernadette Peters and Brian Stokes Mitchell, the event honored Saks Fifth Avenue, New Balance, Rebecca Minkoff and The Jones Group’s Wes Card.

New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. president and chief executive officer Rob DeMartini, who accepted the Brand of the Year award, proudly boasted that his company is the last remaining athletic shoe company that still manufactures in America, a fact the Massachusetts-based company will celebrate in its spring advertising campaign launching this week.

Tory Burch presented Saks Inc. ceo Steven I. Sadove and Ron Frasch with the Retailer of the Year award and pointed out the company’s “collaborative spirit.” Sadove, who said “giving back is so important to Saks Fifth Avenue,” added it was impossible not to “be moved by what we heard here.” And Frasch offered: “I’m proud to be an American.”

Minkoff singled out her supportive family — from her mom’s “tough love” and “teaching me to sew the dresses she wouldn’t buy for me,” to her brother Uri, who is an integral part of her business today — as key to her success. In keeping with the spirit of the evening, Uri Minkoff told of how their grandfather was a fighter pilot in World War II and was shot down twice but survived.

Ken Hicks, head of Foot Locker Inc. and a West Point graduate, presented the award to Card, who told the crowd a story about his brother’s stint in Vietnam and the effect that war had on him his entire life. “So I accept this in honor of my brother and the people left behind and the people who came back not entirely whole.”

That is an apt description of Dan Nevins, director of Warrior Speak, an Army Staff Sergeant who lost his left leg — and subsequently his right one — after a bomb blast in Iraq, who mesmerized the crowd with his story. He spoke of how he was “broken, crippled, changed” and knew he’d never be the same man again. He even wished that he’d actually lost his life in the bombing. But then a Wounded Warrior Project representative visited him in the hospital and brought him a backpack full of “things I didn’t know I wanted,” like CDs and playing cards, and helped him come to terms with his new lot in life. Since then, Nevins has spread that message to other veterans to help prove to them that “their disability doesn’t define them, whether it’s a wound you can see or one you can’t.”