A circus-style revival tent and a 21-gun salute were all that was missing from a gathering this weekend that blended religion and patriotism. More than 200 turned out for the 13th annual God and Country Rally at the Soldotna High School Auditorium on Sunday evening.
The main features of the event were a choral presentation titled, "The Spirit of America," and an address by the president of Northwest University, a Christian college in Seattle.
A choir of more than a dozen voices sang a medley of patriotic and religious hymns from a corner of the stage, while a video montage of iconic American images played on a screen at center stage.
The choir sang "Let Freedom Ring," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and other hymns, while video images of the Statue of Liberty, a fluttering American flag, Mount Rushmore, the Declaration of Independence, the White House and the Capitol building played across the screen.
The video included closeups of names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall and of names of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
The phrase "That's the American Way" flashed several times on the screen over diverse images of American life that included helicopters flying in formation and kids competing in potato sack races. Images from the turn of the 20th century at Ellis Island, N.Y., were accompanied by the choir singing "Coming to America."
The choral and video presentation was intermittently narrated by a monologue that recounted the major wars the United States has taken part in and traced the influence of Christianity on the history of the nation.
Veterans in the audience were asked to stand while the choir sang a medley composed from the anthems of each branch of service. More than two dozen veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines stood up and received a round of applause as the half-hour presentation came to a close.
Northwest University President Don Argue was introduced as having added a new accomplishment to his resume by joining a long-standing Alaska fraternity: On Saturday, he landed a large salmon to join the 60-pound king club.
Argue also was introduced as having attended the press conference where former president Ronald Reagan first called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire" and was noted to have witnessed Dan Rather "gasp" at the phrase.
Argue began his address by noting the lives that were lost in World War II during the pivotal invasion of Normandy by the Allies in June 1944. He credited the Allies subsequent victory and America's continuation as a sovereign nation to the success of the invasion.
"Because of this sacrifice 60 years ago, today we can be hear at this God and Country celebration," he said.
Argue asked the veterans in the crowd to stand as he called out the names of the major wars and conflicts the United States has been involved in over the past 60 years, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and the Iraq War. A veteran was present for every war or conflict named.
Argue noted that freedom comes at a price a theme he would return to throughout his address and cited as example the fact that nine of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence died in the Revolutionary War.
"There's a tremendous price tag on liberty," he said. "You see, liberty comes with a cost, freedom is not free."
At times Argue's address verged on sermon, as he spoke of his vision for the future of the country.
"I have a dream of what America can be ... my dream is based in scriptures ... my dream is that America will be a great, righteous nation," he said.
Argue urged those in attendance to speak their minds out loud, as well as at the ballot box.
"Evil will triumph, when good people do nothing," he said. "When you have the opportunity to speak out, speak out. When you have to the chance to vote, vote."
In the current world climate, Americans should pray more for the leaders of the country and criticize them less, Argue said.
In closing, he reiterated his theme regarding the high price of freedom.
"Freedom is not free, and liberty does not come cheap," he said.
After the address, as if to prove the speaker's point, an organizer of the event noted that the annual rally came with a price tag of its own.
"It costs well over $2,000 to make this night happen," he said, before passing the hat around to collect donations.
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