When Kyle Fox decided to hang a giant U.S. flag in Grove Creek Canyon near his Pleasant Grove home in 2015, he had no idea that he would be creating a movement that would unite communities across the country and change his life forever.
Fox’s idea to hang a giant U.S. flag came from his hobby of raising giant pumpkins. Yes, giant pumpkins.
At the time, Fox and his wife, Carrie, had been growing giant pumpkins for a decade.
“It was a hobby, an addiction, a sport—whatever you want to call it. My best pumpkin I grew was nearly 1,200 pounds,” he says.
The Fox family grew these pumpkins but then didn’t know what to do with them.
“I got the idea of having a pumpkin regatta. We carved them out, put them in a pond, and paddled around in them,” he laughs.
But sailing giant pumpkins wasn’t enough. Next, Fox hired a crane and dropped giant pumpkins from 14 stories in the air where they would smash into thousands of pieces.
“I looked around at these events and noticed that the people there were smiling. There was just happiness and joy. It triggered something for me, and I fell in love with that idea of making people happy,” he says.
A July Surprise
In 2015, Fox and his friend, Ron Nix, came up with the idea of hanging a giant U.S. flag in Grove Creek Canyon above Pleasant Grove.
“It was a complete stunt, a prank,” Fox laughs. “We wanted to do something to surprise people and make them happy because the Fourth of July was coming up.”
But Fox soon discovered that hanging the flag did much more than make people happy. He met a veteran, who could barely walk, standing there in the parking lot at the base of the canyon, looking up at the flag with his hand on his heart and tears streaming down his face. He told Fox that the giant flag was the best “thank you” he had ever felt.
“I had no intention for anything other than a few smiles, but then I realized the magnitude and the magic of what was taking place,” Fox says.
A Life-Changing Mission
In 2017, Fox and Nix started a nonprofit called Follow the Flag. And it has become Fox’s life mission.
“It’s something that has completely consumed me,” he says. “I know it was something that landed in my lap from the heavens above. I had a dream of wanting to be able to reach people, and I feel this is what God has given me to do.”
In an effort to expand Follow the Flag’s mission to honor, heal, and inspire, Fox and Nix decided to take things to the next level by creating the world’s largest free-flying U.S. flag. Through donations and the help of dozens of volunteers, the new flag, affectionately called Big Betsy, was sewn to completion and made a breathtaking debut on July 4, 2017, to the delight of 5,000 spectators. Big Betsy has since been displayed throughout Utah, and each July, the flag is hung in Grove Creek Canyon for a week in conjunction with a flag ceremony to honor veterans and members of the military and their families.
“The families are just as much heroes as the person in uniform,” Fox says.
He also believes that every American can be a hero. “I don’t wear a uniform, but I am a patriot. I hope I act like I am an American hero in the things I am doing and in what I am saying,” he says. “We can all be heroes when we have courage, and courage is built by doing your best.”
The Soldier Car Project
Fox was doing his best in 2017 when he helped the son of a fallen soldier in south Texas. Justin Rozier was only nine months old when his father, Lt. Jonathan Rozier, died in Iraq in 2003. Justin’s mother, Jessica, always wanted Justin to have something that belonged to his father.
She found a vehicle registration from 2002 with the VIN to Jonathan’s 1999 Toyota Celica convertible. She thought it would be amazing if she could find the car, buy it, and give it to Justin. Through Carfax, she traced the car to the Pleasant Grove area, so she posted a message on a Pleasant Grove Facebook page. People shared her post, and soon the car was located.
As soon as Fox heard that the car was only miles away, he set up a GoFundMe account and shared it with the Follow the Flag community. Fox then asked the owner if he would sell the car to Justin. The owner agreed, and Fox was able to pay for the car through the donations.
He then found volunteers to donate more than $30,000 in time and in labor to redo the car from the inside out. The car looked brand new. Fox made sure to include American flags on the leather seats to honor Rozier. When the car was ready, Fox and his friend Art Maxwell took their boys and drove the car to Texas to surprise Justin for his fifteenth birthday. Justin was in shock. Jessica said it was “one of the biggest moments” of her life.
Fox agreed. “It’s a moment I will never forget.”
When people heard about this story, many people began contacting Fox, asking him to fix up their cars and other things. But the timing hasn’t been right—until this year. Now, Follow the Flag is launching what they call the Soldier Car Project.
“We hope to find a vehicle that communities can come together on, restore it, and change someone’s life. It will be reoccurring,” Fox says. “If we can bring some good to someone’s life because they see a story about a kid getting his dad’s car or a flag flying above a canyon, then it’s worth it. There are a million and one ways you can be doing good in the world. Whenever I can give back, I will.”
Honoring and Healing
In 2018, Fox gave back to the friends of fallen Major Brent Taylor—who had been serving as the mayor of North Ogden—when they asked if they could borrow his flag.
“I told them absolutely. I had the flag and the rigging, but they’d have to be the manpower on this one,” he recalls.
The friends worked throughout the night to hang the flag in Coldwater Canyon above Brent Taylor’s home. It was November 11, 2018—Veterans Day. They wanted to surprise Brent’s widow, Jennie.
Jennie Taylor was in a fog that morning. It had only been a week since she learned that her husband had been killed by a member of the Afghan military. Her husband’s killer was someone he was training.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be public.’ I wished I could just keep it to myself. I knew everyone would want to know how our kids [all seven of them] were doing after their dad just got shot in the head. That’s a lot,” Taylor recalls.
She was supposed to have 24 hours of privacy before they released her husband’s name to the news via army protocol, but by 2:00 in the afternoon, half the city was on her front porch. She was still trying to deal with the shock.
“My sister came to pick me up. She said, ‘I need to take you to see something.’ She took me over to the park to see the flag for the first time.”
She continues, “I didn’t know the story for probably six or eight months, and even still I don’t know how they did it. I talked to Kyle. I talked to Brent’s friends. It takes weeks and months of planning to hang a flag, with the logistics, the permits, and the anchor points, yet they showed up on a Sunday morning and just did it,” says Taylor.
For Taylor, the flag in the canyon wasn’t about Brent or herself, but about America.
“There is something about hanging a large flag in a canyon that just grabs every American,” she says. “It wasn’t for Brent or for me—it’s for hundreds of years’ worth of people who have died or buried someone for America.”
Another way that Follow the Flag is inspiring patriotism is through what Fox calls “mini missions.”
“These are missions that just pop up,” he explains. “We show up with flags and do flag lines. We do this for military homecomings, funerals, and sometimes sporting events. At mini mission funerals, volunteers show up and set up American flags all around the cemetery and burial site. Sometimes it can take a while to set up, but when you watch the families come through with tears coming down their faces, it’s worth it.”
James Hammon experienced a mini mission by Follow the Flag when his son, Chief Petty Officer Jared Reaves, died of leukemia in 2019 while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Follow the Flag was there to escort his remains from Chicago, where he passed away,” Hammon recalls. “This group was there when I arrived from saying goodbye to my son in Chicago, filling my yard with flags and the front of my restaurant with as many flags as they could fit in that small area. [They] surrounded my family with respect and gratitude and honored our son in the way that we felt was fitting for an active service member.”
In fact, Hammon was so touched by Follow the Flag’s mission that he has become a dedicated volunteer with the organization.
“Being a part of this group has been a healing process for me and my family,” he says. “I’ve been a part of many flag lines for our fallen warriors. I’ve helped display [the flag] at parades, ball games, and hockey games. This has been the most humbling experience of my life, and I am honored to be a part of this team.”
After friends hung the flag for the Taylors, the North Ogden community raised money and bought their own giant flag that they named The Major in Brent’s honor. They followed Fox’s example and started doing their own mini missions. In 2020, they hung a large flag for fallen Ogden Police Officer Nathan Lyday. They also placed flags to honor former Brigham City resident Lt. Kenneth Kage Allen when his F-15C went down in a training exercise.
“What Kyle started as a total stunt has grown into a wonderful way to engage in service,” says Taylor. “That flag ignited patriotism in my hometown. I don’t think people were not patriotic before, but patriotism was kind of dormant.”
Taylor has started her own foundation named after her husband and is working with her local county and city governments and first responders to plan an event to celebrate the patriotism created twenty years ago when America was attacked on September 11, 2001.
Fox and Follow the Flag also have big plans for the twentieth anniversary. “This September 11, Follow the Flag plans to not only honor the brave men and women who went into a burning building, the innocent lives lost, but also how the people came together much closer on September 12,” he says. They will hang their newest giant flag, Lady Liberty, in Provo’s Rock Canyon for a week. They will also hang a large flag on Lavell Edwards Stadium and be a part of the ceremonies for the BYU vs. Utah football game scheduled for that night.
Before Follow the Flag, Fox says his only experience with the flag was what he saw in movies or learned in school.
“Now, there is so much deeper meaning from all these experiences that have sewn themselves into the American flag in my heart,” he says.
A Legacy of Patriotism
As a gold star dad, Hammon already had a strong sense of patriotism, and his patriotism continues to increase through his service with Follow the Flag.
“Every time I’m involved with this group of people, my sense of patriotism and love for my country grows,” he says. “It’s very humbling to be a small part of group of people like these whose mission has no agenda other than honoring America and her warriors.”
Fox encourages everyone to build their relationship with the flag and find what patriotism means to them.
“Patriotism to me is faith, family, and freedom,” he explains. “It’s speaking out about those things. It’s showing outward action about the love that you have for those things. It comes in many shapes and forms, and it doesn’t require someone to wear a uniform—it requires someone to do positive things and take action within their sphere.”
Fox says that he asks himself the following two questions and encourages everyone else to do the same:
1. What part will I write in the next chapter of American history?
2. What will my legacy be?
“Open your mouth, speak up, get up, and do things,” he encourages. “I can’t do the things that you can do, and you can’t necessarily do the things that I can do, but all of us together—doing our individual best—makes us unstoppable. Coming together and being unified with the people that are completely in our sphere, within our reach, our community, our family, and our home is a great place to start.”
Learn more about Follow the Flag on our podcast episode with Kyle Fox or visit followtheflag.org.
Fun Facts About Big Betsy
Just how big is Big Betsy, the world’s largest free-flying U.S. flag? Check out these impressive numbers!
- 11,800 square feet—size of Big Betsy (150’ x 78’)
- 400 pounds—weight of Big Betsy
- 6 feet—width of each stripe of the flag
- 55 inches—width of each star on the flag
This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.
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