The sacrifices and courage of the more than 5 million military caregivers across the country who support our men and women in uniform often goes unnoticed.
TODAY is shining a spotlight on those "hidden heroes" just a few days ahead of Memorial Day, as Oscar winner Tom Hanks joined Savannah Guthrie on Thursday in front of a crowd of caregivers and military veterans at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway to highlight a special cause championed by former Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
Dole created the Hidden Heroes campaign in 2016 to raise awareness of issues military caregivers routinely face, inspire organizations and citizens to support the caregivers in their own communities, and establish a national registry that helps connect caregivers to resources and support. Hanks has served as the chairman of the campaign since its inception.
"The small acts of kindness can make a real difference,'' Dole said on TODAY Thursday. "For example, go help mow the lawn, take a good dinner over to the family, take the children out for an event, or sit with the wounded warrior and let the caregiver get a little respite."
The Hidden Heroes campaign is run by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which was created in 2012 to raise awareness and champion policy that improves the lives of military caregivers.
Dole has been a longtime military caregiver herself, as her husband is former Sen. and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, 95, whose suffered permanent injuries to both arms from German machine gun fire in World War II.
Elizabeth Dole was inspired to create the foundation after her husband spent nearly 11 months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and she witnessed all the spouses, siblings, family and friends supporting their wounded veterans.
"It was incredible what I saw,'' Dole said. "They were really suffering. They had nowhere to turn for help. Their worlds were turned upside down, really, and so my heart went out to them. When you see something like that, you're compelled to go do something about it."
The veterans and caregivers gathered in Indianapolis on Thursday were also treated to a concert by nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow on the track at the famous speedway, which will host the 103rd edition of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
In addition to some of her hits, Crow played her song "Redemption Day," a collaboration featuring the voice of late country music icon Johnny Cash that is part of her new album coming out on Aug. 30.
Hidden Heroes has helped spearhead legislation providing financial assistance to military caregivers as well as provide an online database of resources and a way for them to connect with one another for support and advice.
A national registry of military caregivers has been created on the Hidden Heroes website to help the foundation better direct its services and resources to those in need.
The campaign has also recruited 130 cities, including Indianapolis, to build awareness of all the hidden heroes in their own communities.