The solemn statue of a soldier with a baby, nestled under a canopy of trees at Shoup Park, served as inspiration for a special July 4 program celebrating America’s freedoms and gratitude for veterans.
The program recognized the 20th anniversary of the installation of “The Cradle of Liberty,” dedicated July 4, 1998. The event, part of a busy day of “Glorious Fourth” picnic activities at the Los Altos park, included stirring speeches from Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Socrates “Pete” Manoukian and “Cradle” creator, artist Rebecca Joy (R.J.) Truman.
Event speakers took note of a classic American theme – immigrants finding a new home in the land of the free. Los Altos Mayor Jean Mordo, who participated alongside Los Altos Hills Mayor John Radford, is from France. Former Los Altos Mayor Frank Verlot, master of ceremonies for the program, is from Belgium. Manoukian is from Lebanon.
Mordo said the Fourth of July has special meaning for immigrants like himself. He called the United States “the refuge for the world.”
He understood that the statue is intended to represent veterans from all wars but took note of “the fact that he’s dressed like a World War II soldier.” For Mordo, the statue represents “America, the good guys, saving the world.”
Sacrifice of the slain
Manoukian, born in Beirut, obtained his U.S. citizenship in 1963. He grew up in Los Altos, attended Covington School and graduated from Los Altos High. A longtime resident of Los Altos Hills, the judge lost a son, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Matt Manoukian, in Afghanistan in 2012.
He called the statue “a beautiful testament to American heroes. … I am not a veteran, however, I am part of this community, and I respect the sacrifices made by veterans.”
Manoukian emphasized the important contribution veterans make to keep the U.S. safe for democracy, often through the ultimate sacrifice.
“We must remember the sacrifice of the slain,” he said. “Speak their names out loud, for then they will live in the hearts of families and friends.”
He recalled how he and his family members, including young Matt, visited “The Cradle of Liberty” shortly after its 1998 dedication.
“I will never forget how my son Matt looked at the statue,” he said. “A few years earlier, my dad, a genocide survivor, told my boys about his life surviving the Armenian genocide twice. At the time, Matt asked him, ‘Why didn’t anyone help you?’ Dad answered casually, ‘Nobody cared about us.’ Maybe this statue motivated Matt to do good things during his service in the Marine Corps during his four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Manoukian added, “While great generals and admirals are well-known to us, not so the rank and file – of them there is no widespread memory. The heroes are nameless – like the statue here. Their work should never be forgotten.”
Truman was living in Los Altos at the time she created the sculpture, but was selected by World War II vets Bill Henderson and Jay Brandon – leaders of the campaign for the war memorial – after a nationwide search.
“I learned so many things researching the veteran’s war memorial project,” she told the gathering. “I learned that there are times when people have to take a stand. I learned that in order to preserve our rights, we must fight for our rights. And I learned that any person who is willing to lay down their life for their country is a hero. It is for these heroes that I made this statue.”
She pointed to the statue’s details and what they represent.
“His bandaged left arm reflects the price that liberty demands,” Truman said.
The baby is wrapped in a revolutionary war flag, which she chose “because it is our first flag – the flag represents not only the highest ideals that our country was built on, but also the hopes and dreams that the men and women of the United States fought for.”
The child, Liberty, is reaching for the soldier, Truman said, “knowing that she needs his protection to survive – ‘The Cradle of Liberty’ rests within the arms of our men and women who have so valiantly given their lives to preserve our freedom and nation.”
Truman ended her talk with a challenge, listing four things that require people’s attention: gerrymandering, lobbyists in the backroom of government, corporations with profits-at-all-costs mentalities and global warming.
“I have spoken to congressmen and senators on both sides of the aisle, and they have all said that they are not going to do anything until we make them uncomfortable,” she said. “So you now know what your job is – let them know that if they want to keep their jobs, they need to serve as our representatives. … Please step up and become the citizen soldiers that this nation needs, that the world needs. … Because the only difference between us and those that started this nation is that we are comfortable. Get uncomfortable and change the world.”