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Glimpsing Liberty By Dawn's Early Light

By Robert A. Wilkin / July 3, 1989



ON that Fourth of July eve in 1945, all the fog in the world descended on New York harbor. Orders crackled through the intercom: All vessels, including our troopship, were to anchor in the harbor rather than attempt berthing in that impenetrable white-blackness.

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We'd left Italy 12 days ago. And, according to the scuttlebutt, we'd have a whole month's leave at home, here, in America, before reassignment to combat in the South Pacific. Below, dry bunks awaited. But at 0200 hours, soaked to the skin, we lined the rails, peering into the fog. From somewhere out there - maybe from Bedloe's Island or the Battery or another troopship anchored in the dark - Glenn Miller music drifted to us on eddying breezes.

``How dumb can we get?'' muttered Dominic. ``Tomorrow's gonna be one heck of a busy day. It's 2 o'clock - we ought to hit the sack, right?''

``Right,'' we agreed, shifting our weight a bit and continuing our rail leaning.

Her unseen presence mesmerized us. That rail and a few hundred yards were all that stood between us and the Statue of Liberty. There was an imperative quietness, a feeling we couldn't possibly articulate. Dominic, Louie, Mario, Stash, and me: Guys like us don't say poetic things like ``I'm alive. Lots of guy's aren't. But I am - and I'm coming home - and at this very minute I'm anchored right here next to the Statue of Liberty!''

Since flight school, we five had been together. And it was together we pursued that sodden vigil throughout the night.

At sunrise, the fog broke into scattered wisps and surrendered. There she was!

Her bulk towered over us. The new sun bronzed her face, serene and understanding. Her crown, its spikes symbolic of continent and sea, glowed with the first light of day. Then, one last rebellious cloud wafted between us and that intrepid symbol of freedom.

``Y'know,'' began Mario, ``my Ma and Pa used to try to tell us kids how they felt when their ship arrived here from the Old Country and they saw that statue - they saw America - for the first time.'' His voice broke and trailed off. He was alone with his thoughts.

Since that long-ago homecoming, the better part of a half century has come and gone. But the feelings born that foggy Fourth of July in New York harbor will live with us forever.

At first glance, the Fourth of July and the Statue of Liberty are apple-pie American phenomena. But the proper title of the statue is ``Liberty Enlightening the World.''

The world!

When Emma Lazarus conceived those simple lines etched on the statue that begin: ``Give me your tired, your poor....'' could she have envisioned that, in 1989, thousands of those ``huddled masses yearning to breathe free'' would be huddled in China's Tiananmen Square?

Let us all hope and pray that these courageous young people with their paper-and-plaster statue inspired by the one we love and respect will someday taste the liberty so many Americans take for granted: That they, too, may have a tenth of December - or a seventh of May - or some other date to celebrate that means ``Fourth of July.''