Gala celebrates 2015 Freedom Award recipients

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Flags decorated the Utah Valley Conference Center Thursday, July 2, as more than 600 people honored this year’s winners of the Freedom Award.

The award ceremony highlighted the 30th Annual Freedom Awards Gala, an event of the Freedom Festival in Provo. Honorees explained to the audience how the good they bring into the world has been worth the profound sacrifices it has cost them.

Among those honored was Master Sgt. Cedric King, a veteran who lost both legs from an IED explosion in Afghanistan. Focused determination and a strong faith in God pushed King to fight to become the type of man who would continue to help others rise from their challenges. He ran his first Boston Marathon on prosthetic blades 21 months after losing his legs.

“The first thing that I’ve learned since this injury is that it’s actually a blessing,” King said. “But … freedom really is not free.”

King urged the crowd to consider the price of freedom: “We take it for granted, and we think that because it was here yesterday, it will be here today, and it will be here tomorrow. But that freedom cost. Not just legs, but it cost lives.”

Vicki Garbutt, chair of the Freedom Award Gala Committee, explained that each year recipients, like King, remind her that ordinary people can change society for the better.

“We talk about freedom as a value, and these recipients make that value come alive,” Garbutt said.

Garbutt continued by explaining that the gala helps to memorialize stories of freedom that can continue to inspire others to greatness.

“Reagan said that ‘freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,’ and this gala is here to remind us of that,” Garbutt said. “This is an effort to keep those stories alive.”

Other recipients of the 2015 Freedom Award include:

  • Nelson Takeo Akagi, a Japanese-American World War II veteran who volunteered for service while his family lived in a U.S. internment camp.
  • Sharlene Wells Hawkes, president of Remember My Service Productions and former Miss America. Her organization records and distributes the stories of service men and women.
  • Timothy Ballard, a member of Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit organization with a mission to save children from human trafficking.

Paul Warner, executive director of the Festival Administration, said he hoped people attending the gala would remember those who have sacrificed for the freedoms Americans enjoy.

“We owe our freedom to others, both from those in the past from World War II, and also those serving present,” Warner said.

The Freedom Festival’s objective is to “celebrate, teach, honor and strengthen the traditional American values of God, family, freedom and country.”

Those who came to honor the recipients of the 2015 Freedom Award included two U.S. Congressmen, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah County commissioners and “Candy Bomber” Gail Halvorsen.

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