HAPPY 4TH OF JULY: Lady Liberty Re-Opens Her Crown; Marines in Afghanistan Commemorate Holiday in Scorching Heat

The first visitors allowed into the Statue of Liberty’s crown in nearly eight years began the steep climb Saturday on an Independence Day journey laden with symbolism of freedom and national pride.

Statue Of LibertyThe statue was closed to the public after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The base, pedestal and outdoor observation deck were reopened in 2004, but the crown remained off-limits. The National Park Service says the crown remained closed since Sept. 11 because the narrow, double-helix staircases could not be safely evacuated in an emergency and didn’t comply with fire and building codes. Tourists often suffered heat exhaustion, shortness of breath, panic attacks, claustrophobia and fear of heights, spokesman Darren Boch said.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., pushed for years for the crown to be reopened, once calling the decision to close it off “a partial victory for terrorists.” He said it was embarrassing that it was off-limits for so long. The reopening “represents some personal vindication,” he said Saturday. “It’s nice to pat Lady Liberty’s toes. It’s nice to stand and breathe the air on Liberty Island, but you really haven’t lived the experience until you’ve gone up to the crown. A lot of Americans are able to see that now.”

So far, about 14,500 tickets to the crown have been sold, most of them for visits through the end of August. Tickets currently on sale are for visits in the fall and beyond. Thirty people an hour will be allowed into the crown. They will be brought up in groups of 10, guided by park rangers along the way. Some of the crown’s 25 windows offer a view of the Manhattan skyline, no longer punctuated by the 110-story twin towers of the World Trade Center. New handrails have been installed to help with the climb – all 354 of them. The statue, 305 feet tall to the tip of its raised torch, was designed to mark the 1876 centennial of the Declaration of Independence. It faces the entrance to New York Harbor, welcoming the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” in the words of Emma Lazarus, engraved on a bronze plaque inside the statue.

The torch has been closed since it was damaged by a saboteur’s bomb in 1916. Visitors are now screened before boarding ferries and again before they can visit the museum in the base or climb to the top of the pedestal.

On this celebratory occasion, lets not forget our soldiers overseas and be sure to take a moment to acknowledge them and their sacrifice as we hit the beach and barbecue, while they protect our freedom on the front lines.

U.S. Marines walked a third straight day across southern Afghanistan in desert heat that proved enemy in its own right, with several troops falling victim Saturday to temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

afghan1The Marines carry 50-100 pounds on their backs. But because they are marching through farmland on foot, they can’t carry nearly as much water as their thirst demands. Few even realized the date was July 4, but once word of the holiday spread through the company, several said they knew relatives would be holding lakeside celebrations — a world away from the strenuous task Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment was taking on.

“Happy 4th of July, dawg. Happy America,” said Lance Corp. Vince Morales, 21, of Baytown, Texas said to one of his Marine buddies while resting under a tree during a break. Some Marines ate watermelon from a farmer’s field as the evening sun set, but there were few other signs of a holiday celebration here.

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