Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Statue of Liberty

(A personal memento by Van Christo on July 4, 2011)

Born in Albania, I lied about my age during WWII so I could join the U.S. Navy at age 16. In 1944, I served as a Petty Officer aboard a Destroyer Escort, the U.S. S. Chaffee, DE 230, underway to Bayonne, New Jersey, from Boston for outfitting prior to assignment in Pacific Ocean War Areas. As we neared our destination, our crew realized that, in a few moments, we would be passing the Statue of Liberty - an image we all knew by heart from seeing it many times in newspaper photos, school books, and newsreels. Now, it was actually about to happen! With high anticipation, crew members not on watch gathered on the starboard (right) side of the ship as the Statue came into view. We cruised by in dead silence, instinctively stood at attention, and slowly saluted. Frankly, I’m not ashamed to say there were tears in my eyes, and in the eyes of my shipmates. For looming above, was the inspirational symbol of America that our fathers and mothers had gazed at with such hope for us, their children, years before. I was not the only immigrant on my ship - there were other immigrants from Austria, Holland, Poland, France, and Puerto Rico. Passing the Statue of Liberty doubled my pride, that as an immigrant from Albania, I was in the service of my adopted country in a time of war.

Emma Lazarus, an American writer of Portuguese-Jewish ancestry, was so moved by news of Eastern European persecution of Jews, she published "The New Colossus" in 1883 - now one of the most often quoted poems in U.S. history, especially the lines inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore."

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


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