Del Mar foundation, wounded Marine honor military with Freedom Bell in D.C.
Representatives of a local organization dedicated to supporting past, present and future members of the U.S. military traveled to Washington, D.C. in July to take part in a ceremony honoring veterans of the Korean War.
The Del Mar-based Spirit of Liberty Foundation was represented during events at the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall by founder Richard Rovsek, former U.S. Marine Sgt. Kaleb Weakley, and Daniel Rakers, who handles public relations for the nonprofit.
Weakley, who was wounded in combat in Afghanistan in 2012, assisted veterans and passers-by as they rang the Freedom Bell, a smaller version of the Liberty Bell that was commissioned by the foundation two years ago. Participants can ring the bell in honor of specific service members, or for other personal reasons.
“It’s a humbling experience to hear people from all over … the only thing they want to ring it for is for freedom, or for our armed forces,” said Weakley, 25, a San Diego resident. “People tell me they want to ring it for freedom or America or our President. When they ring it, it’s for a cause and to show their support and appreciation.”
The foundation brings the 400-pound bell, which is suspended from a custom-made stand and topped by a sculpture of an eagle, to various events around the country. The bell also was on display over the Memorial Day weekend at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
“It is in a sense a traveling memorial. Over 2 million people have seen, touched and rung the Freedom Bell in just over two years” since it was created, Rakers said.
Locally, the bell has been displayed at the U.S. Midway Museum in San Diego. Plans are in the works for it to be featured at this year’s Fleet Week activities in September, and at the Miramar Air Show in October, Rakers said. The foundation is also gearing up for a national tour of events across the country.
Weakley began working with the foundation in 2014. Besides serving as an unofficial ambassador with the Freedom Bell, he is vice president of a new venture under the foundation’s umbrella, called American Warrior Brands.
The fledgling company markets its own brand of barbecue sauces, and the company is meant to provide jobs for veterans who were wounded in combat, like himself, Weakley said.
“It’s been barely over a year. It’s still in its infancy, but it still has potential to grow,” Weakley said of American Warrior Brands.
The sauces are available at the Midway museum gift shop, and the company is working to place the products in more San Diego stores, Weakley said. The sauces can also be purchased from the company’s website, AmericanWarriorBrands.com.
Weakley’s own story of resilience could prove an inspiration for growing the barbecue sauce company. In 2012, a sniper in Afghanistan shot him in the left leg and right arm, and his ankle was further damaged by an explosive as he was being assisted to the safety of a helicopter.
Despite several years of therapy and other treatments, Weakley still relies on a brace and cane to walk, and his mobility is severely limited. A planned operation to amputate his left leg above the knee offers the promise of improved quality of life because of advances in prosthetics, he said. Weakley is encouraged because he knows other amputees who can run, cycle, surf, golf and rock-climb.
The matter is given extra urgency because Weakley and his fiancée are expecting a baby girl in November.
“I want to be able to run around with her, and hike and camp,” he said.
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