Excitement and joy radiated from those attending the ninth annual God and Country Rally Sunday. But cheers quickly were replaced by concern as a World War II veteran collapsed while addressing the crowd.
John Walsh, a U.S. Army Air Forces bomber pilot in World War II, fell to the floor on the Soldotna High School stage while relating his experiences in Europe. The audience filed out of the auditorium as Central Emergency Services paramedics attended to Walsh before transporting him to Central Peninsula General Hospital.
Walsh suffered a heart attack, rally officials said, and was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Walsh survived 35 B-17 bombing raids over Germany in World War II. On one mission, his plane sustained more than 400 bullet holes.
After Walsh was transported to the hospital, the audience returned to the auditorium and activities resumed.
"We felt John would want us to go on," said Pastor James D. Duncan, chair of the rally. "They were very proud of John."
Thoughts and prayers for Walsh were expressed by the crowd as they returned.
The Peninsula Grace Worship Choir then sang "Welcome Home" and "I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb" while the audience sang along with upraised hands.
Duncan estimated several hundred attended the rally to honor veterans and recognize God's blessing on America.
"I felt it was very successful, in spite of the unfortunate thing that happened to John," he said.
Guest speaker Chuck Brewster, retired from the Secret Service and a veteran of the Vietnam War, discussed the importance of veterans as heroes.
"They have done things in battle that are unusual," Brewster said.
He went on to name Secret Service men who also had risked their lives for others, heroes trained to react much like men in war, he said.
The rally, he said, was the time to honor those men who gave all for the good of others.
"John gave it all," Brewster said, returning the thoughts of the crowd to the veteran he shared the stage with earlier in the evening.
The God and Country Rally was begun to honor a Soldotna man who also gave his all for America.
During the Persian Gulf War, Duncan felt the community needed an event to celebrate freedom and recognize the death of David Douthit, a Soldotna man who was the only Alaskan killed during the Gulf War.
Duncan said there was a great response from the community and churches who gathered and it has continued to this day.
Many churches participated in this year's rally, including the Soldotna First Assembly of God, Peninsula Grace Brethren, Kenai Christian Fellowship, New Life Assembly of God, Soldotna Church of God, Soldotna Church of the Nazarene and Calvary Bap-tist.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Kenai and Soldotna Elks Clubs and the AMVETS contributed members to form the color guard, which presented and retired the flags.
Overall, Duncan said, the people were very moved by the rally.
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