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6 receive Freedom Awards for service at gala in Provo

SHARE 6 receive Freedom Awards for service at gala in Provo

An American flag with shiny ribbons in an American top hat filled with red, white and purplish-blue petunias was the centerpiece of each table.

The room was partially lit by lamp posts wound with red, white and blue ribbons.Clusters of balloons and American flags in the country's colors further created the mood for America's Freedom Festival at Provo's annual Awards Gala at Brigham Young University's Wilkinson Center Ballroom Friday night.

At the gala, six people deemed exemplary for their service received the Freedom Award.

Charlie DeLeo, the self-named Keeper of the Flame of the Statue of Liberty, was given an award. DeLeo has worked at Lady Liberty for 26 years and says he was destined to work there. He calls himself the Keeper of the Flame because he is the only man who has cared for the statue's torch since an incident in 1916 when it was shut down.

Expecting to be forgotten after his service in World War II because he was black, Vernon J. Baker was finally given a Medal of Honor more than 50 years later by President Clinton. At the gala, his award was also meant to honor six other black men who also had been overlooked for the World War II honor.

Like Baker, award winner Louis Zamperini served during World War II. He lived afloat a lifeboat for 47 days in the Central Pacific Ocean and then survived a Japanese prison camp run by a man who would later be the 23rd most wanted man in Japan. Zamperini returned to Japan to forgive his former torturers after the war.

Baroness Caroline Cox of Great Britain was given a Freedom Award because of her dedication to helping the world through humanitarian aid. Instead of just giving supplies to someone to deliver to places such as Poland and Armenia, she rode on the truck to exemplify accountability. She returned to England to tell others what it is like. She was appointed as a lifelong member to the British House of Lords in 1982.

Honored for his contributions to the human soul was Dr. Robert Schuller, a Protestant pastor. He runs the most widely viewed television service every Sunday from the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.

The sixth recipient was Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recognized for his 22 years of service as a Utah senator. Hatch has been recognized by the National Taxpayer's Union for fiscal responsibility and is an advocate of pro-growth tax bills.

Throughout the evening, the nearly 1,000 guests enjoyed varied entertainment, including the American Fork High School Band and a four-couple ballroom dance group. The awards ceremony is the most formal event of the Freedom Festival, which continues through the July Fourth weekend.