Precious sights & sounds of liberty


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



We were driving home from a vacation trip to Maine. Every trip I’ve taken to Maine has been wonderful. This trip was no different.

We spent time in Eastport, which is the farthest east town in the United States. We watched whales as we cruised in a small boat off the coast and skirted around the largest whirlpool in the western hemisphere. We had an eye-opening view of nature that left our hearts filled with awe and wonder.

Besides the views, the lobster was delicious.

We drove there and back because we love the scenery, but I am not wild about driving through large, unfamiliar cities. We buzzed through Boston as quickly as possible. The New York area was a baffling series of interstate twists and turns and lane changes. We decided not to stop in either Boston or New York, but we have decided that someday we will fly into those cities and enjoy some time there.

The views from I-95 were difficult to enjoy. There was just way too much traffic to enjoy the cityscapes.

South of New York, just before passing Staten Island, I glanced to the east and caught the sight of a distant, slightly greenish looking statue sticking up out of the bay. I said, “That has to be the Statue of Liberty.”

Our glimpse of Lady Liberty was brief. She stood there, a few miles away, but just knowing she was there brought a smile to our faces and put a lump in my throat.

Someday, we are definitely going to visit New York City. We will do all the touristy things: visit the 9/11 Memorial, see a Broadway play, go the top of the Empire State Building and enjoy a few great restaurants. But, at the top of my list is a trip to Liberty Island and a close-up encounter with The Lady in the Harbor.

The statue was a gift from France, meant to honor the 100-year celebration our independence. The centennial gift was intended to cement the friendship that had grown between our countries since the Revolutionary War. France was going to develop and donate the huge statue. We were committed to building the base on which she would stand.

The French intended her to be a monument to our independence. However, with the inclusion of a poem by Emma Lazarus in 1883, she became a beacon of freedom for the entire world. We all recognize the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Her presence in the bay has welcomed hundreds of thousands of people to a life of freedom in the United States. These people and their families have become the soul of this nation.

The Riley family came from Ireland around 1700, well before Lady Liberty assumed her stand in New York harbor, but like many others we have shouldered our responsibilities as citizens of this great nation.

We celebrate Flag Day. We honor the brave soldiers who landed on the shores of France on D-Day and restored freedom to our French allies.

Every Fourth of July, we honor and celebrate our freedom as instructed by John Adams. He wrote about July 4, that we should commemorate the date, “with pomp and parade, with shows, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

That certainly sounds like a traditional July Fourth celebration, ending at dusk with a great fireworks display.

At some point during the celebration, we will listen to patriotic music.

A few years ago, I was in Sabina celebrating with friends. The Wright-Patterson Jazz band was going to end their performance with a wonderful, upbeat rendition of all five military service songs. We were told to stand when they played the song of the military branch in which we served, or in which one of our children served.

I proudly stood as the military hymn for the Army was played. I stood again as the Marine Hymn was played. Again, I stood as the Coast Guard Hymn was played.

A lady me tapped my on the shoulder and said, “I think you’re only supposed to stand for one song.”

I proudly told her that I had sons who served in the Army, Marines and Coast Guard. She shook my hand and thanked me for my son’s service.

Today, I would also stand for the Navy Hymn in honor of my granddaughter. She currently serves on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

I take pride in the quote on the Statue of Liberty. I take even greater pride in my children and grandchildren who have worked and sacrificed to turn those words into reality.

All of our veterans have helped Lady Liberty to keep her shining lamp raised on our golden shore, “Welcoming those yearning to breathe free.”

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist