July 3, 2021
In its inaugural event, “A Patriotic Tribute to America” held on July 3, 2021, United We Pledge proudly provided the opportunity for community members to celebrate Independence Day in a meaningful way. The hour-long event acted as a pre-show for the 99.9 KONY Country 4th of July Celebration in St. George, UT.
The event began with a recorded message from Utah Governor Spencer Cox followed by the presentation of the United States Flag by the American Legion. Gideon Willard, a student from Dixie Middle School, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, Mimi Knell took the stage singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” As the national anthem rang through the stadium, United We Pledge volunteers unfurled “Big Betsy,” the largest U.S. flag ever flown, covering the majority of the east bleachers. “Big Betsy” weighs 500 pounds and measures 150 feet by 75 feet. The flag was provided by “Follow the Flag,” a nonprofit organization that seeks to strengthen patriotism.
The highlight of the event was the appearance of Air Force Colonel (retired) Gail Halvorsen, also known as the “Candy Bomber.” In partnership with Dixie State University, Halvorsen was able to take to the skies once more at the age of 100 as a passenger of Gunship Helicopters. As Knell concluded singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” the helicopter began it’s ascent behind the stadium. Hovering over the north end of the field, Halvorsen dropped candy for eager children below.
Halvorsen first dropped candy to children during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949. The idea came to him during a routine trip to deliver rations in Berlin. He saw about thirty children behind a barbed wire fence watching the planes. Halvorsen’s heart went out to the impoverished children, and after gifting them a stick of gum, the noble tradition was born. He gained the support of his fellow servicemen, and they pooled their rations and attached the candy to parachutes fashioned out of handkerchiefs. Over time, the children soon learned to watch as Halvorsen wiggled the wings of his plane, signaling to them that the candy was coming. Over the course of the airlift, over 23 tons of candy was dropped.
After landing behind the stadium, two volunteers escorted Halvorsen to the stadium stage where his legacy of kindness and charity was recognized as we honored him with the inaugural Gail Halvorsen Lifetime Service Award. In a touching moment, Regine Lovely of St. George, Utah, presented the award.
Lovely was three years old when she received gum from one of Halvorsen’s first candy drops. She credits him with bringing hope to the people of Berlin. Lovely brought the act of kindness full circle by giving him a package of Wrigley gum, the same brand she received as a child, along with the award.
“A pack of gum, Wrigley!” Halvorsen exclaimed as Lovely gave him a hug and handed him the gum. Halvorsen then turned to the crowd and waved, saying, “God Bless America!”
The Gail Halvorsen Lifetime Service Award represents an exemplary lifetime of serving others and contributing to the community and will be presented annually by United We Pledge.
“A Patriotic Tribute to America” included additional service awards to honor nine local veterans including Boris Derugin (Army, Military Police); Jerome Gourley (Army); Victor Frei (Marine Corps); Anton Kuhlman (Navy); Karen Foss (Navy); Brad Hays (Air Force); Linwood Green (Air Force); Kimberly Green (Air Force); and Bob Flowers (Coast Guard).
Following the presentation of the awards, Tim Ballard, founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad spoke to the crowd about “The American Covenant.” He drew attention to the plight of women and children who are forced into slavery by sex-trafficing and Operation Underground Railroad’s mission to rescue them.
Ballard is the author of seven books, including the Hypothesis series, comprised of “The Pilgrim Hypothesis,” “The Washington Hypothesis,” and “The Lincoln Hypothesis.” In addition to his involvement with Operation Underground Railroad, Ballard is the CEO of The Nazarene Fund, a nonprofit organization that seeks to liberate and protect persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
United We Pledge is grateful to the many businesses, organizations, and volunteers who made this program possible, including Balance of Nature, Dixie State University, Canyon Media, St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, Follow the Flag, Help Patriotism Prevail, St. George Interfaith Council, Center for Self Governance, Enjoymore, St. George Musical Theatre, Barker Leavitt Attorneys at Law, America’s Freedom Festival, America 250, and Gunship Helicopters.