November 26, 2022 : By Office of Communications & Public Engagement
During halftime of Liberty University’s Military Appreciation Football Game on Saturday against New Mexico State at Williams Stadium, the university took time to celebrate and honor the United States veterans in attendance and all current military members serving around the world.
The military appreciation halftime show has been a tradition at Liberty for 13 years.
“Liberty University honors and celebrates those serving in all six branches of the military,” said Director of Athletics Ian McCaw. “The military represent the highest ideals of our country and dedicate themselves to protecting our freedoms.”
All retired and active military were eligible to receive up to four free tickets to the game.
Director of the Liberty University Center for Chaplaincy Dr. Steven Keith said the opening prayer before kickoff. Keith served as an Air Force chaplain from 1984-2014. He served in 14 assignments worldwide and deployed several times to the Middle East, most notably to Iraq, where he received the Bronze Star for exceptional ministry while under fire.
At the start of halftime, the Spirit of the Mountain Marching Band took the field, with the colorguard members carrying American flags, and performed the official songs of each military branch. Veterans around the stadium were asked to stand for their respective branch as each song was played. That was followed by “Taps,” as fans joined in a moment of silence for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
It is also a Liberty tradition to present its annual military honor, the George Rogers Champion of Freedom Award, during the show. This year’s recipient was Dennis Janiak, who was recognized at center field with members of his family. Janiak served in the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam (1967-68) and is a Purple Heart veteran. He was honored for his continued service to veterans as an active part of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. [Read more about Janiak’s story.] Janiak was presented the honor by 2021 recipient the Rev. Brian Moore, a retired Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army National Guard and a Purple Heart veteran.
Since 2010, Liberty has presented the award each year to a man or woman who served in the United States Armed Forces and went above the call of duty, displaying extraordinary heroism while in the service and continuing to be an outstanding ambassador in their community. The award’s namesake honors Purple Heart and Prisoner of War Medal recipient George Rogers, a former Vice President of Finance and Administration at Liberty. Rogers passed away in 2019.
The climax of the halftime show every year is when a large American flag is unfurled on the field as “God Bless the U.S.A.” is played. As he has done for several years, recording artist Charles Billingsley performed the song, and over 100 volunteers stretched the flag across the north end of the field as the Spirit of the Mountain formed USA on the south end. In the song’s final notes, fireworks were set off as six men rushed to center field to reenact the pose of the famous Iwo Jima Memorial, signifying the flag raising at the World War II battle and serving as a tribute to those who have lost their lives in service to our nation.
In addition to the Veterans Appreciation Reception (Nov. 8) for faculty and staff who have served their country, Liberty held the annual Valley View Mike Donahue 5-Miler (Nov. 12), named in honor of former faculty member and Liberty alumnus Major Michael Donahue who was killed in a Taliban attack in 2014 on a U.S. military base outside Kabul, Afghanistan.
Liberty Athletics also held Military Appreciation games with women’s basketball (Nov. 17) and volleyball (Nov. 11). The Club Sports Department participated through men’s Division I hockey Military Appreciation Game against Delaware (Nov. 12).
Liberty has consistently been ranked as a top military-friendly and “Best for Vets” university. The Veterans Center located in the Montview Student Union provides resources and support for service members, veterans, and their families.
In 2017, Liberty was designated as a Purple Heart University, making it the first college or university in Virginia to receive the honor from the Military Order of the Purple Heart in recognition of a university’s support for service members and their dependents.