A Night Out: The Navy Memorial Lone Sailor Awards

The Navy Memorial Lone Sailor Awards dinner brought a slew of government officials and military personnel to the National Building Museum this week.

By: Eliot Stein

>> See a slideshow from the evening here

What: The Navy Memorial Lone Sailor Awards dinner.

Where: The National Building Museum.

When: Tuesday, September 22, 6 to 10:30.

Who: The black-tie gala was a who’s who of distinguished men in uniform, politicians, and their spouses attached at the arm. With so many decorated seamen, high-ranking Marines, and Congressmen, the only misters and misses in attendance seemed to be with the media. Among those drawing the most attention were Kentucky Senator and former major-league pitcher Jim Bunning; Tennessee Congressional representatives Marsha Blackburn and Steve Cohen; Pennsylvania Congressman Christopher Carney; vice chief of naval operations Jonathan Greenert; former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe; former CEO of CNN and managing editor of Time Walter Isaacson; John McCain’s mother, Roberta McCain; master chief petty officer of the navy Rick West; and former commandant of the Marines Paul X. Kelley. After hobnobbing with photographers and admirers during the VIP cocktail hour, the boldfaced names turned their attention to the evening’s three awards recipients: cosmetic business giant Leonard Lauder; FedEx founder Fred Smith; and baseball great Yogi Berra.

Scene: Named after the symbolic statue standing outside the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, the Lone Sailor Awards honor distinguished sea-service veterans who exemplify military values in their civilian career. In fact, without a resume of brass honors dangling from your uniform or a posse of aids trailing your every move, even those in the blackest of ties could feel under-dressed beneath the vaulted arcades and Doric columns of the National Building Museum. This was probably the only awards show in town preceeded by a national anthem and pledge of allegiance (capped off with a cry of “Go Navy, beat Army!”), and at no point did Kanye West rush the stage to dispute the show’s outcome. Slick government contractors rubbed shoulders with well-heeled dignitaries, and two jumbo-trons played narrated videos recapping each recipient’s lifetime achievements to more standing ovations than a State of the Union address.

“When I told my wife I’d be honored with Yogi, she said ‘You better be funny!,’ ” Leonard Lauder, the former president of Estée Lauder, said when accepting his award. After dinner, he told us that he hoped to visit the National Gallery of Art while in town and that “the Meyerhoff Collection is a great gift to the city and the nation.”

Said an emotional Fred Smith: “While I have enormous pride in FedEx, nothing has given me more pride in my life than being a Marine and leading troops in uniform,” before accepting the Lone Sailor award on behalf of “the men inscribed next to the Lincoln Memorial.”

The most anticipated honoree was undoubtedly Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who served as a Navy soldier during the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. Though known for his “Yogi-ism” sayings, the baseball great was introduced by his three sons as “the most quoted man in America who never says a thing.” True to form, Berra kept his speech short: “I didn’t know a lot when I started the Navy, but I learned a lot real quick. Going in [to Omaha Beach] looked like the Fourth of July, and I thought ‘I’m too young to die.’ Thank God I made it.”

Food: Lump crabcake drizzled with Hollandaise sauce, blood-red filet mignon marinated in red wine, and a side of potatoes with asparagus. “Did you eat the beef?” Roberta McCain asked us after dinner. “I’ve never eaten better beef in my life!”

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