Their Masters Image

Photo by Joel BeersIt was sometimes hard to figure out who was being remembered at the Sept. 14 Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace's "Tribute to the Heroic Rescue Workers": the approximately 500 fallen rescue workers, or our former president, whose remains are interred mere yards from where the ceremony took place.

It wasn't so much that Nixon Foundation executive director (and chief Nixon apologist/revisionist) John Taylor mentioned Nixon's name prominently during his opening remarks and before introducing some of the 10 speakers; it's Taylor's job to keep Nixon alive. It's that Taylor's Nixonian spin was a bit much at times. He wanted us to believe that Nixon "inherited and ended a bloody war," to know that Nixon once spoke before a national gathering of police chiefs, and that "at the height of the Cold War," Nixon once asserted that Americans "protect other people's freedoms instead of taking them away."

Taylor's comments were incongruous at best and inappropriate at worst. But the visual reminders of Nixon were more offensive. Speakers—including politicians, local clergy and professional athletes—stood before a backdrop of American flags and three large photographs. From right to left, those images were: a photo of the firefighter who planted an American flag atop the rubble that used to be the World Trade Center, a haunting photo of two exhausted rescue workers with the smoking debris of the building billowing up behind them, and a black-and-white photo of a beaming Richard M. Nixon shaking hands with a group of Vietnam-era U.S. troops. The Nixon photo seemed like an attempt to remind every person at the memorial that Nixon . . . what? Liked shaking hands with American soldiers?

The Nixon spin didn't spoil the memorial, but it was irksome, especially in a service otherwise so refreshingly free of politics and cynicism. From the stirring nondenominational invocation by John Werhas, pastor of Yorba Linda Friends Church (a church Nixon's parents helped found, Taylor kindly reminded us) to Yorba Linda Mayor Pro Tem (and LA County sheriff's deputy) Allen Castellano's eloquent diagnosis of the law-enforcement community—"our hearts hurt"—there was rarely a dry eye in the audience. It was patriotism at its most sham-free, a genuine way to honor the Americans who perished. Even Taylor's remarks, from his eloquent opening comments to his closing recital of a passage from Charlotte Bront, were appropriate—except for the shameless proselytizing on behalf of Nixon.

Anaheim Angels right fielder Tim Salmon contributed some of the most moving and unscripted remarks. At times like these, Salmon said, it's important to take stock of who we are and to realize what's truly important. That's wisdom. There's just a tinge of sadness that for the organizers of this event, it wasn't enough to donate the use of their scenic facility in order to honor those Americans who died Sept. 11; it was painfully apparent that it was equally important to leverage this day of prayer and remembrance into an opportunity to fire one more salvo in their never-ending fight to rehabilitate their master's image.

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