By Kristina Houck
From retired military members to loved ones of those who were lost, about 3,000 Arlington National Cemetery visitors rang the Freedom Bell as they entered the military burial ground on Veterans Day.
“Some were ringing the bell out of happiness and commemoration, others were so down, distraught and despondent, they were remembering tragedies when ringing the bell,” said Rancho Santa Fe resident Gary Bobileff.
The nearly 300-pound Liberty Bell replica was cast on June 6, D-Day, incorporating steel remnants from the World Trade Center towers. The exterior of the bell displays the seal of all five branches of the U.S. military — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The base of the bell is embossed with 50 stars, one for every state.
“The whole purpose of the bell is to commemorate and remember all our military — past, present and future,” Bobileff said. “That’s inscribed toward the base of the bell.”
Rancho Santa Fe resident Richard Rovsek came up with the concept for the bell, drawing it on a paper napkin last May. Rovsek, a former member of President Ronald Reagan’s staff, is the founder of the Spirit of Liberty Foundation, which supports men and women in the Armed Forces with an emphasis on wounded warriors and fallen heroes.
Through the nonprofit organization, Rovsek and his friend Bobileff have visited troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and held events at the Walter Reed Medical Center. This year, the pair traveled the country, displaying the bell.
The Freedom Bell debuted on Flag Day, June 14, at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. In July, it was displayed on top of the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier in San Diego, where bell ringers could get a certificate recognizing, “I rang the Freedom Bell.” The bell also appeared at the 12th anniversary of 9/11 in New York.
“Every person has a different reason to ring the bell,” said Bobileff, who owns a Ferrari and Lamborghini sales, service and restoration dealership in San Diego.
“Seeing people from all different walks of life with all different meanings for ringing the bell is amazing.”
On Nov. 8, the bell appeared on Fox News. The New York Fire Department transported the bell to the studios. From there, the bell was transferred to the USS Olympia in Philadelphia for a ceremony on Nov. 9. It was then transferred to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a ceremony on Nov. 10, before it was transferred to Arlington National Cemetery for Veterans Day.
“It was the first time in history that anything other than wreathes or flowers was allowed inside the gates of Arlington National Cemetery,” Bobileff said. “It was well received by the people in Arlington and the officials that were there.”
Rovsek was asked to bring the bell back to Arlington next Veterans Day, Bobileff said. For now, the bell’s next stop is the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu to honor the victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.
“These guys are heroes. They laid their lives down for me,” Bobileff said. “I’m totally appreciative.”
To learn more about the Spirit of Liberty Foundation visit, spiritoflibertyfoundation.com.