Each year, Liberty University collects nominations for a military veteran who epitomizes what it means to be a “Champion of Freedom”. A person who honorably served in the United States Armed Forces. A person who went above the call of duty and displayed extraordinary service and heroism. A person who continues to serve in their community today.
Nominations are reviewed by a selection committee and then the winner is announced during Military Emphasis Week at the Military Appreciation Football Game during half-time. This year the game will be on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, and will serve as a fitting bookend to a week devoted to honoring our nation’s service members and veterans.
But what does it mean to be a “Champion of Freedom”? The award’s namesake and first winner from 2010 is Mr. George Rogers, a WWII prisoner of war and survivor of the Bataan Death March. Due to the severe starvation and abuse he suffered, he was told he would never be able to have children and would likely die by the age of 40. Mr. Rogers defied those odds and lives today as a 98 year old father of five children.
Many past award winners have been Purple Heart recipients. Mr. Oliver North, the award winner in 2014, received two Purple Hearts during his service in Vietnam. Mr. Steve Bozeman, the 2011 recipient, earned two Purple Hearts while serving Vietnam for incredibly courageous acts of heroism and bravery. He is now a passionate advocate and community leader for the veterans in Lynchburg, VA. Mr. Tim Lee, the award winner in 2012, gave both of his legs in Vietnam and Lieutenant Clebe McClary, winner in 2013, lost his left arm and eye in Vietnam as well. These men continue to make a difference in their communities today, using their stories to inspire, raise awareness, and spread the love of God.
The most recent award winners are no longer with us today. Major Mike Donahue was the first posthumous award winner in 2015 and had a special connection to Liberty University. He served as an ROTC professor from 2008-2010 and gave his life in Afghanistan on Sept. 16, 2014. Last year’s award winner, Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Davidson was the first Air Force chaplain to set foot on the soil of Baghdad, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and ministered to the men and women serving there with incredible bravery and valor. He passed away in April of this year.
As we near the announcement of this year’s Champion of Freedom award winner and look back on the incredible individuals who have received this award in the past, I am reminded of Hebrews 12: 1-2:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
These men ran, and some are still running, the race set before them. We are so lucky to have encountered these champions of freedom, to have been inspired by their acts of bravery, challenged by their commitment to service, and to have received their imparted wisdom that can only come from living a life of great purpose. What a privilege it is to live among and recognize such individuals as this through the George Rogers Champion of Freedom Award.