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Friday, May 25, 2007

Remembrance in Spacetime: Liberty

The displaced persons had boarded the General J. H. McRae (AP-149), an American Army transport, in early October 1949 at Bremerhaven on the north coast of General Eisenhower's American Occupation Zone. The North Atlantic was stormy that October, and its crossing took about two weeks. It was a nightmare.

At the end of the second week of the hellish crossing, the mother scored a jackpot. Though she was a seasick, kerchief-wearing refugee she was, nevertheless, a pretty young woman, and she charmed a ship's officer into giving her a single tablet of Dramamine. She shared it with her son on the deck of the General McRae. The father, as usual, bore his misery stoically. After swallowing the half-tablet, the child's queasiness lifted, as did the morning haze.

And there she was. With torch held high, she beckoned to the ship's human cargo as the General McRae steamed into New York Harbor. She was beautiful, just as they had imagined she would be.

It was United Nations Day in America: October 24, 1949. But it might as well have been the Fourth of July. For the immigrant survivors, it was, as we continued to celebrate it annually, our Day of Liberty.

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