About the Author: Tom Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer (FSLO) aboard the USNS Richard E. Byrd for Pacific Partnership 2009 (PP09).
I read a New York Times editorial today (online) that commented on the sameness of Fourth of July: “…the weather and the menu and the fireworks and the friends and family you celebrate with.” Pacific Partnership personnel, and many of the crew of the USNS Byrd, celebrated a very different Fourth of July. To be sure, there were elements of tradition: a softball game between U.S. Peace Corps volunteers and PP09 personnel, a menu of hot dogs and barbecued chicken, sparklers for everyone who wanted one. The American Embassy, as in hundreds of other locations around the globe, planned and hosted the celebration. Entirely by chance, an American couple from Florida who had been visiting the Robert Louis Stevenson memorial on a beautiful hillside in Apia, wandered into the gathering, which was held at the mansion (now a museum) of the famous author. They marveled at this Fourth of July, unlike any they had ever attended.
The Samoan Head of State joined us but went out of his way to keep the party very informal. The printed programs contained the Declaration of Independence, translated by a local professor into the Samoan language. Miss Samoa 2009 and her sister sang the national anthem. American Charge’ d’Affaires Robin L. Yeager read messages from President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. A brass and percussion quintet from the Pacific Fleet Band offered rousing renditions of New Orleans classics. It rained off and on, but no one noticed. Everyone was having a great time celebrating the American National Day.
There were at least ten different countries represented at our celebration, and I was struck by how much they knew about our nation, and our leaders, and how fascinated many of the Samoans were with some of the phrases of our Declaration of Independence, translated into their own language. Many of them also expressed their appreciation for the Pacific Partnership mission and are looking forward to the coming week, when both engineering and medical efforts will focus on the National Hospital in Apia. It was a very special Independence Day -- for all of us.