My Fellow Americans,
The horrendous and unprovoked attack on our country on 9-11-2001 was certainly an event that changed the way most Americans viewed the world and demanded of us an introspective look at ourselves and our standing in the greater global community of nations. It also brought out the best of us and highlighted that “special” something that has characterized our nation since its founding. In the immediate aftermath of 9-11 there was a deep and spontaneous reaction across the country of overt patriotism and a desire on the part of most Americans to somehow contribute to the defense of the nation and our way of life. This attack also dramatically highlighted the importance of and our dependence upon a first rate military as our front line of defense and protection.
The essential purpose of the Yellow Ribbon Express tour is to celebrate that desire to serve which has so characterized our nation since its founding and to rekindle and encourage that spirit of service to all Americans. It will also confer special thanks upon those who throughout our two and a half centuries have stepped forward and served America in uniform.
In the early 1970’s, as America was preparing to celebrate its Bicentennial, very little media attention was being paid to this very-significant milestone. Instead, most media space and energy was being devoted to the divisive issues of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. It was a time of a greatly unpopular war and a very unpopular President.
Thus, I incorporated the American Freedom Train Foundation, Inc. in 1970, as an IRS Section 501(c) (3) entity, for the sole purpose of organizing and operating a Bicentennial commemorative train in 1976. To that end I was successful in securing four major corporate sponsors: PepsiCo, General Motors, KraftFoods and Prudential Insurance to underwrite the cost of the project. Their funding, plus strong support from the White House, allowed me to establish sufficient credibility within the museum community to borrow 512 original artifacts from 285 museums and private collectors from across the nation. These artifacts were insured for $100 million, and 13 of the 512 total items were listed as “priceless”. Among the items were George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, with his handwritten notes in the margin; Delaware’s copy of the Bill ofRights; the Louisiana Purchase document; the backup Lunar Rover; Babe Ruth’s bat and ball with which he set his long-standing home-run record; Bob Lanier’s size 23 sneakers; and Willard’s painting of “The Spirit of 1776”. It was in large measure the tremendous drawing power of these 512 original artifacts that made The American Freedom Train a sell-out wherever it was displayed.
The train’s epic 25,883-mile journey began on April 1, 1975, in Wilmington, Delaware (“The First State”) and ended on December 31, 1976 in Miami, Florida. It was on display in 135 cities and towns in all of the “Lower 48” States, and hosted approximately 7,600,000 paid visitors…of which about one-half were school children. Revenues from ticket sales provided sufficient funds to pay all operating expenses, and thus allowed the project to proudly proclaim that it was financed entirely in the private sector. A small surplus remaining at the project’s conclusion was donated to the American Red Cross, and all 512 artifacts were successfully returned to their lenders damage-free.
(More details, and some photographs, may be viewed at the web site: www.freedomtrain.org)
Moving forward to today, our nation is now engaged in a Global War on Terrorism which is, by its very nature, taking us into unchartered waters, and demanding of us commitment, ingenuity and perseverance at levels never before experienced. Some things are already crystal clear, including the fact that the continued patriotism, sacrifice and bravery of our young men and women will be required well into the future to preserve and protect our way of life. I believe that there exists today a deep national appreciation for the job being done by our military forces, and a desire on the part of a large majority of our citizens to express this gratitude in a personal way. Based on my past experience, I envision “The Yellow Ribbon Express” (YRE) as an appropriate vehicle to facilitate such expression of national support, while simultaneously acting as a very effective fundraising instrument to effectively demonstrate to our wounded veterans that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
“The Yellow Ribbon Express” (YRE) will act as the prime torch-bearer for the American people during its 3 year, 150-city display run: uniting us all in our gratitude to those who have served the nation in harm’s way. Hundreds of original artifacts from our nation’s history will be on board its ten display cars, which will employ all available state-of-the-art display technologies, to tell the story of our 250 year old fight to protect freedom. As was amply shown by the success of the 1976 “American Freedom Train”, these priceless artifacts will ensure the train’s “must-see” status throughout the nation.
By raising the approximately $75 million required to build the train, fabricate its displays, and pay its operating costs for the first of its 3-year tour – from a select few corporate co-sponsors -- we will be able to dedicate the vast majority of the projected revenues generated during the YRE's 3-year tour from admissions, benefit dinners, concerts and other income-generating venues, to the overarching goal of provide assistance to those Veterans who come home severely wounded, and their families.
We believe that an overwhelming majority of the American people realize that we are engaged in a very long term struggle against those who are dedicated to destroying our democratic way of life and that we must mobilize all of our collective resources in resisting this ongoing threat. Primary among these are our men and women in uniform, who are at the heart of the YRE experience. We believe that the Yellow Ribbon Express will give the American people an opportunity to show their support for our true heroes and that the monies generated through the “Billion for the Brave” fund will provide tangible evidence of that support.
We welcome and solicit your support and counsel.
Ross E. Rowland, Jr.
American Freedom Train Foundation, Inc.
Yellow Ribbon Express Foundation, Inc.