DECATUR -- Representatives of the Spirit of America Festival announced winners of the 2010 Spirit of America Awards in a press conference April 7 at Decatur City Hall.

The Spirit of America Festival, held yearly on July 4 at Point Mallard Park in Decatur, honors deserving men and women who display outstanding leadership, service and sacrifice to others and to this nation in three separate awards: the Humanitarian Award, the Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award, and the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award.

This year's winners are ministers James and Carol Henderson, aerospace consultant Joe Fitzgerald, and author Homer Hickam Jr., respectively.

Henderson, a retired colonel, Vietnam veteran and Bronze Star recipient, won the Humanitarian Award, along with his wife, Carol, for their work with needy, homeless and elderly people and for their prison ministry. He has been active in the past as an Army chaplain at Redstone, and with the Honor Flight organization. He also performs funeral services for veterans and others who have no family or pastor.

Fitzgerald, a Huntsville resident, won the Barrett C. Shelton Freedom Award for his work as founder of Honor Flight Tennessee Valley, which transports World War II veterans and terminally ill veterans to their memorials in Washington, D.C. He has been a civic and community leader in Huntsville since 1974, active in numerous professional associations, and renowned for his work with veterans organizations and community service projects at Redstone.

Hickam, a former engineer with AMCOM and NASA, and now a writer of such acclaimed books as "Rocket Boys" and "October Sky," won the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award for a "life and work that embodies the American ideal that a person's dreams should never be limited by their surroundings, and that the Spirit of America is best defined by those who use their talents and abilities to pursue their personal best in all they attempt and achieve," per the festival nominating committee.

Both Henderson and Fitzgerald were in attendance, and spoke briefly. Hickam addressed the audience by phone from his home in West Virginia, where he said he was serving as a representative for the families of the miners killed in the tragic accident last week.

Past winners of these awards include Sen. John Sparkman, astronaut John Young, Michael Durant, the Challenger crew, Bear Bryant, Gen. Omar Bradley, and other numerous military heroes and leaders.

The Spirit of America Festival began in 1967 during the height of the Vietnam War as a way to show community support for the fighting men and women of the armed services. It is one of the largest Independence Day celebrations in the country, attracting more than 50,000 people annually. Admission to the festival is free.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16