LeRoy Collins Commentary 193

Commentary #193
4 July 2008

Patriots' Quotes for July 4th

I. "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." (inscription on the Liberty Bell, from the Bible's book of Leviticus 25:10)

II. "Thomas Jefferson still lives." (quote from former President John Adams (after waking momentarily the afternoon of July 4 1826, before lapsing into a final sleep). Reference: The Works of John Adams, C.F. Adams, ed., vol. 1 (636)

III. "Is it the Fourth?" (penultimate remark of Thomas Jefferson the evening of July 3 - he died the next morning July 4th 1826, .....50 years to the day following adoption of his Declaration of Independence in 1776). Reference: Thomas Jefferson: A Life, by Randal (594).

Independence Day is so historic in America, and one we typically celebrate with much mirth and gusto. Last night I watched the City's bright fireworks display from our neighbor's boat in Tampa Bay. I never see such an event without realizing all that garish display is possible only because we have U.S. troops stationed on the ramparts of liberty worldwide to "provide for the common defense....", i.e. to ensure we can avoid more serious "fireworks" in hometown America.

But let me tell you about a very unusual Fourth of July I helped celebrate a day later, as part of an official delegation to five countries in Equatorial Africa the hot sultry summer of 1987....

At that time, it was a Department of Defense and U.S. Department of State policy to send U.S. Navy warships to each country fronting on the South Atlantic Ocean at least every third year. With the decreasing size of the U.S. Navy's Fleet of ships, we no longer had the ships needed to carry out that mission (we have even less now, approx 270!). As an alternative, some logistician in the Pentagon came up with the idea of substituting a 30-year-old Navy P3 airplane ferrying a small group of senior Naval Reserve officers....and the Atlantic Fleet Show Band.... to show the U.S. flag. I was chosen to be the senior officer for the two-week visit to Nigeria, Ghana, Equitorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tome. After consulting the National Institutes of Health, I insisted upon including a senior Navy Reserve physician for our 30-man team, plus 100 emergency MRE food packets. Equitorial Africa was then....and still is...the home of tropical diseases which Americans are not not typically well-prepared to combat. After the customary battery of innoculations, we departed in late June from MacDill AFB....via Recife Brazil and Dakar Senegal for fuel stops.

By 5 July 1987, we arrived in Malabo, the capital of Equitorial Guinea, an obscure dictatorship in the corner of Africa. It was beautiful but extremely limited in creature comforts as evidenced by a single ramshackle hotel (un-air-conditioned), a filthy local hospital with a blood-stained operating room, and a military dictator who insisted on a public assembly to award me a medal. He had come to power by personally assassinating his predecessor, who had been on a rampage of genocide. Our U.S. Ambassador was a delightful lawyer from Texas who had been given the post following faithful service to the Republican Party as a payback for fund-raising in the Ronald Reagan campaign. His wife was a charming lady who insisted I stay overnight as their houseguest in this Godforsaken end of the civilized world. They had delayed their traditional July 4th soire for the diplomatic corps one day until we arrived, so they could have a U.S. Military presence in ceremonial uniforms.

But the Ambassador forewarned me we should expect a diplomatic snub from the Soviet Ambassador ....designed to embarrass the U.S. at a high level, albeit in such an insignificant location among the Nations of the World. To greet the arrival of the new U.S. Ambassador and his lady in the preceeding year, the Soviets had sent a "gift" clock in the form of the U.S. Seal, which included a secret compartment into which they stuffed a small but highly poisonous snake, which was fortunately discovered before it could do its fatal mischief.

Also, you need to know the U.S. had earlier ceased to provide military aid to Equitorial Guinea because they were using it to commit piracy on the high seas, but the Soviets and Chinese legations were supporting such criminal practices. But back to the July 4th party on July 5th at a neutral diplomatic site in Malabo.....

The late-afternoon reception was polite and festive from the outset with the diplomatic corps and their escorts dressed in native color. But there was one chap who was drunker than most, and clearly enjoying it most.....the Soviet. The Soviet Ambassador's chauffeur was their "delegate" to the American Independence party; Boris slapped me on the back, spoke no English, but his glassy eyes and Russian gibberish transcended the language barrier in his own crude way to say..."GOOD SHOW, YANK"! That was the Soviet surprise, and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

We were a long way from the USA for that Fouth of July 1987, but not so far to miss discerning the genuine affection and RESPECT the other countries feel for the USA. Equitorial Guinea was a destitute country, but the United States was well-represented.

In all five of the countries we visited, the centerpiece of our group "showing the U.S.Flag" was the 17-piece Show Band of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, which thrilled our audiences with our National Anthem (plus theirs), a few patriotic classics, but an array of the latest pop tunes from Stevie Wonder to the Rolling Stones. The natives recognized them all, and requested some others. The band was great, and they even let me direct them in a stirring rendition of Anchors Aweigh in their final performance of the trip.

We flew back home feeling we had left a good impression of America, albeit superficial, .....thanks to the band. But the greatest compliment came a year later when our physician (CAPT USNR, MC) for the trip, an African American who had his own pediatric orthopedic clinic in Ohio was invited back to lecture and teach new surgical procedures. That logistician in the Pentagon who substituted us for a Navy warship visit was on-target. HAPPY FOURTH, AMERICA.

/s/ LeRoy Collins, Rear Admiral, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)


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