January 10, 1997
Jim Knerr - Final Tribute To A Cold War Heroby Howard Hobbs, Ph.D., Economics Editor
WASHINGTON DESK - West of the San Gabriel Wilderness in Southern California lies an upland called Topanga Canyon. The 'Canyon' is a natural sandstone and metamorphic barrier separating the San Gabriel Valley from the coastal plain bordering on the Las Padres National Forest. One of the idyllic communities just to the West of Topanga is Simi Valley.
Some time back, on November 4, 1991 several thousand people traveled to Simi Valley from all over the world. One of these was Ronald W. Reagan, the 40th President of the United States. One of the others already there was Jim Knerr, former U.S. Marine, Red Sox outfielder, and American History teacher at Simi Valley High School.
The president and the history teacher crossed paths at the dedication ceremony opening the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Both men were invited guests of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
The history teacher and the students at Simi Valley High School would remember that day and so would Ronald W. Reagan.
Just ten years earlier president, Ronald W. Reagan told a Notre Dame Commencement audience 'The years ahead will be great ones for our country, for the cause of freedom and for the spread of civilization. The west will not contain Communism, it will transcend Communism. We will not bother to denounce it, we'll dismiss it as a bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.'
The history teacher was a U.S. Marine recruit in San Diego when he first heard that he would be in 'harms way' fighting in a cold war. He was told by the Marine Corps Commandant that when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Truman sent the Marines into action. And that three years later, a truce left the prewar border intact.
In 1953 Stalin died and Truman left office. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had ordered the Marines to stand ready to engage Communist Chinese military forces again in Korea as Russia tried to prevent East Germans from escaping to freedom in West Berlin.
The 3rd Marine Division would be a human trip wire in the Far East warning the United States government of any Communist aggression against the emerging nations of Taiwan, Japan, So. Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
So, the history teacher who in 1955 was ready and willing to serve his country in times of deadly peril, survived to hear the words spoken by the 40th President of the United States in 1981. And ten years later,on November 4, 1991 the history teacher met the president who spoke those words with such eloquence.
Knerr also spoke eloquently and often spoke to his Simi Valley High School classes of his impressions of the cold war. He told them about the lives and the libraries of all the American presidents. He often referred to the life and the Library of the 40th President of the United States.
On Tuesday Jim Knerr, at the age of 62, died from a massive heart attack. His stunned family gathered on Saturday for a simple graveside service in Chatsworth.
But on Friday, this writer and some of the other mourners visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum to remember Jim Knerr as he was on that day in 1991 when the former Marine met the former president, face to face.
On Friday there were many visitors at the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library & Museum Bookstore. The director Dr. Mark Hunt met this writer and honored a request to locate the original Guest Book from November 4, 1991 containing Jim Knerr's public signature.
As the writer thought of Jim and his love of the American system of government an opportunity presented itself to view the cold war military exhibit. The impressive display of military artifacts reminded the writer, anew, that he served with Knerr in the U.S. Marines in those cold war days in the 1950's.
This writer had placed his own life on the line to preserve this nations's freedom. Knerr stood tall in the fight against the spread of Communism.
While Knerr was playing baseball for the Marine Corps Special Services, state-side, his life was just as much at risk as that of this writer, a young non-com officer in charge of a company of riflemen in the 3rd Marine Division recon amphibious attack force in the Far East Command.
The Far East Command patrolled coastlines with LST's, escorted by light cruisers and air support. We completed a number of recon operations at Iwo Jima, in China, Korea, and Russian held islands off the Northern Japan coast.
The marines held the islands of Quemoy & Matsu against hostile Chinese incursions off the Communist China coast. This was the cold war for this writer, a U.S. Marine who was 19 years old. Times were different then. But our values haven't changed over the passage of time.
And, on November 4, 1991 the dedication ceremonies at the Ronald W. Reagan Library & Museum confirmed the preeminence of those values.
On that day, there were a number of world political leaders and their spouses present. These included Edward Meese the III and Ursula Meese, Ambassador Walter Annenberg and Ambassador Leonore Annenberg, the Co-Chairman of the Dedication event, Lew R. Wasserman and Edie Wasserman, John and Louise Herrington, Joe and Barbie Haberton, Dr. & Mrs. Martin Anderson, William and Joan Clark, Malcolm S. Forbes Jr., Frederick and Genevieve Ryan, Mary and Charles Z. Wick, Jean Smith, wife of the late Attorney General William F. Smith, Don Wilson, the United States Archivist. Members of our American Presidential families James Roosevelt, Curtis Roosevelt, Julianne Roosevelt, Lucy Johnson and her husband, Ian Turpin, Marine Reagan and her husband, Dennis Rebel, Michael and Colleen Reagan, Ron Reagan, Caroline Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Other honored guests included, the wife of the late President of Egypt, Mrs. Anwar Sadat. The Senior Pastor of the Bel Air Presbyterian church, the Reverend Donn D. Moomaw and Mrs. Moomaw, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the United States General Colin and Alma Powell, the Governor of the state of California and Mrs. Pete Wilson.
The First Lady of the United States Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan, Rosalind Carter, Betty Ford and Pat Nixon and Lady Bird Johnson of the United States accompanied by the 40th President Ronald Reagan, the 39th President Jimmy Carter, the 38th President Gerald Ford and the 37th President Richard Nixon.
Knerr told this writer that Bel Air Presbyterian Church minister Dr. Donn D. Moomaw prayed a beautiful prayer that day. The National Archives provided the writer with a transcript of the proceedings, including that prayer. This is it: 'We thank you, our father, for Mr. and Mrs. Reagan and the principles which have guided them and the faith which has kept them true, compassionate and just, as we are this day surrounded by many dignitaries and honored world leaders, oh God we recognize you are the mighty one, and we pray that you will visit us this day and empower us anew with your spirit of joy, of hope and of compassion. In the name of our lord and savior we pray. Amen. God bless.'
The actor, Charlton Heston then made a presentation. Heston said: 'Twenty some years, on a January day at high noon on the west front of the Capitol, each of these five men has taken part in an event unique in the world, without force or coercion, with neither the threat of military violence nor parliamentary abrasion, each in his turn has accepted in peaceful transfer the most awesome power and influence ever put in the hand of a single human being. The man who holds this power, in the fullness of time, passes it on in civil and genial obedience to the customs of two centuries.
Each of these men inherited more than just a constitutional legacy, each will be forever wrapped in legend and myth, each has carried a burden of responsibility that has no known counterpart in the world. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush are the lineal descendent of Washington and Adams, Jefferson and Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt.Through them, they are linked to the very birth year of our Republic.
The Presidents. What do we wish from them? What can he pledge to us? What can we say or do to help him? It's been said that the creation of the United States is the greatest political act of mankind. How did that happen? What brought about that extraordinary confluence of time, place, circumstance, a concerted effort of a people in arms and a few great men.
How did the line continue through two centuries, to these five who stand here with us, having borne, still bearing, the awesome weight of the Republic?
Why has it worked so long? and so well? Was it our system? Surely that's part of it. The American dream which is not success, but freedom. It's not that only though. Other countries have cherished that dream and lost it but what then? Are we smarter? Is it luck? Are we more determined? Is it the grace of God? I think it is in part the land itself, that broad swell of continent between those shining seas.
From the very beginning, before we were Americans, as a people we were captivated by the land. "We belonged to the land before the land was ours," Carl Sandburg wrote. American writers have been exploring this country and its history from the beginning.
Reading what some of them have written over all these years I was struck by how readily fragments, sentences of what they wrote fell almost by themselves into one paragraph. They seem to speak with one voice. Here are the words of seven men: Martin Luther King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Paine, Samuel Elliot Morrison, William Faulkner, Thomas Woolf and Abraham Lincoln about America and Americans. "I have a dream, I refuse to accept the end of man. I believe he will endure, he will prevail, man is immortal not because alone among God's creatures, he has a voice, but because he has the soul, a spirit, capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.
About America, and Americans, this is particularly true, it's a fabulous country, the only, fabulous country where miracles not only happen, they happen all the time. As a nation we have perhaps uniquely a special willingness of the heart, a blithe fearlessness, a simple yearning righteousness and justice that ignited in our revolution the flame of freedom that cannot be stamped out. That is the living truthful spirit of this country.
These are the times that try men's souls. The sunshine patriot and the summer soldier will in this crisis shrink from service. But he who stands and bears it now will earn the thanks of men and women. We must bind up the nation's wounds, reaffirming the right as God gives us to see the right. Let us finish the work we are in.'
This writer knows those words inspired Jim Knerr.
This writer also knows that Knerr, in his way, did not shrink from that service. His life and his commitment to his wife, Yvonne, and his children, Ray and Becky, to his students, and to his nation are a living testimony not only to the personal life-force of a former Marine, but to the enduring value that our society places on the lives of such cold war heroes as these. Semper Fi!