Happy Birthday America celebrations on the 4th of July, typically mean fireworks, outdoor parties, barbecues, baseball, and hot dogs—Americans enjoying a summer day off, marking the date of America’s birth.
But for me, July 4, 1976, America’s 200th birthday, was special.
Planning began years earlier for extraordinary celebrations in major cities. But nothing could top the Tall Ships Salute at the Statue of Liberty, viewed from the shores of the Hudson River, between New York City and New Jersey.
In an event called “Op Sail,” the peacetime armada included 50 sailing ships, many of which dated back to the 19th century. They sailed from their respective navies around the world, to salute and celebrate America’s birthday. Even the Soviet Union—then in the midst of the Cold War—participated.
President Gerald Ford traveled down the river aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Wainwright, and received a 21-gun salute aboard the USS Enterprise. He then formally reviewed the international parade of tall multi-mast warships as they sailed past the Statue of Liberty.
The event had taken years to plan, and we eagerly anticipated the big day. Many of us arrived at the statue’s island home by 5:00 AM, seven hours before the president’s scheduled arrival. Though park police had anticipated crowd-control and traffic problems, people were extraordinarily polite, and ensured that kids and older people got front-row positions.
Nearly everyone carried a pair of binoculars. The ships passed only a few hundred feet from us, but we all wanted to see the president and details of each ship.
The mood was a mixture of celebration and a surprising dash of patriotism seldom seen among New Yorkers and New Jerseyites. But it was a once-in-a-lifetime event, reminding us of something bigger than ourselves.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history with a different kind of Military, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX