Helping freedom ring

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

America’s Freedom Festival at Provo has been described as the nation’s greatest celebration of Independence Day. Word’s like “greatest” have been ground down by overuse in our language and lost their edge. But for a city it’s size, I don’t know any town that makes more hoopla over the Fourth of July, and the days and sometimes weeks preceding it. I consider myself a minor authority on the subject. Years ago I served as president and then chairman of the festival. My first year we decided that Provo had the facilities and potential to make a bolder statement for American values.

I was doing some work with Osmond family entertainment productions, and approached them to get involved. They did, and pulled out all the stops to make the stadium show a world class event. Military men and women paraded. Balloons filled the skies, The Osmond brothers sang, danced, played instruments, and whipped through karate moves. Marie belted out country favorites. Donny made his entrance swooping down from the skies strapped to the side of a helicopter. (His insurance agent went into cardiac arrest I’m thinking.) And the fireworks—they lit up the stadium, the town, the mountains, the prairies, and Utah Lake white with foam, or so it seemed. The Osmond’s had so much fun, and made such a tidy profit, that they have been involved ever since in what has become the annual “Stadium of Fire.”

We were also able to bring the festival’s patriotic service from the front steps of the county courthouse into Brigham Young University’s 23,000 seat indoor sports arena. I got some flack when we invited Eldridge Cleaver, a former leader of the Black Panthers 1960’s militant organization. But he gave an inspirational speech describing how his exile years in Cuba and Algeria had opened his eyes to the blessings of being an American. Cleaver spent the last part of his life working to bless the lives of others and help them find the joy of God’s love for them. I feel we did the right thing to provide him a pulpit for his message.

Like every bold experiment, not everything we tried that year worked. To represent our Native American culture, we brought in a dancer and his entourage. He was well known and highly successful among his people. I found later that a week following our little gathering, the dance group packed a stadium in New Mexico.

They were very good, but we were very ignorant of their art form. The handful of people who came to watch was more puzzled than entertained. The ratio of Caucasians to Native Americans was something close to Custer’s last stand at the Little Bighorn.

“People love the air show. They will flock to it,” the more experienced committee members told me. I hoped so. Gathering and presenting aerobatic acts, historical aircraft, and the famous Air Force Thunderbirds flying team cost a little less than the invasion of Normandy. The show management folks required a financial guarantee in advance. They were reasonable though. I signed over our family car. They overlooked the fact that our ancient Volkswagen bus was worth about a five gallon can of jet fuel. (Bring your own bucket.)

The people who counseled me were right. Local folks flocked in droves to the air show. But they didn’t flock to buy a ticket and come inside. Why should they when they could park by the roadside and in the fields surrounding the airport and watch for free? We crashed and burned financially. The city picked up the tab. They even let me keep the Volks bus, but they were not smiling. I console myself that over the years the city has made more money from the Stadium of Fire productions we started than they lost in the nosedive we took with the air show.

I couldn’t worry about their feelings or finances at the time. Our little committee was busier than a one armed paper hanger with the hives, as the saying goes. These days the festival production committees direct about 4,000 volunteers. We had a skeleton crew of about 30 people. My capable and willing neighbor Joanne Pitts (may her name be enshrined with the great patriots of history) was the Jim Thorpe of civic duty. Thorpe, a Native American, was one of the greatest athletes to ever compete; Hall of Fame football and baseball player, and all everything in track. At the meets other schools would introduce their sprinters, distance runners, shot put and javelin throwers, long and high jumpers. Jim would introduce himself. He was the whole team. Frequently he won. That was Joanne. She could do it all, and she did.

Our parade chairman was willing and enthusiastic. Ironically, he himself didn’t parade much, having only one leg.

Speaking of irony, I canvassed the local service clubs for volunteers. I got one. He was a British citizen visiting for a few weeks. He served well. But I’m not sure he ever caught the spirit of the occasion. He kept referring to the events that launched this great nation as, “That unfortunate incident in the colonies.”

For our efforts and through the support of thousands of enthusiastic patriots our expanded festival received the George Washington medal of excellence by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

Great memories; one of my most indelible is lying on a grassy knoll alone looking up into the dark sky, and down onto the football stadium. The flash and thunder of the last fireworks had died away. Cars were creeping bumper to bumper down every exit street. But that was somebody else’s problem. We had done what we set out to do. The emptying stadium brought back a quote from football coach Vince Lombardi, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour… is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious”

Your next installment is: Wandering minstrel

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?
The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.