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TOKYO --- The man overseeing America's 200th birthday celebration denies it is a "commercialized ripoff" and says those turning out red, white and blue toilet seats are merely practicing free enterprise.

"A lot of people think the Bicentennial is a commercialized ripoff," John W. Warner told Pacific Stars and Stripes, "what with red, white and blue toilet seats, caskets, Bicentennial funerals and cans of air for sale.

Warner, who heads the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration that supervises planning for nationwide celebrations, says he wouldn't think of trying to stop production of any such item.

"The free enterprise system is a very important part of our country. That's why a lot of people live here," said Warner, who was secretary of the Navy from May 1972 until April, 1974. "For some bureaucrat to tell people to stop making a certain product would be censorship. It's up to the people to control what items are produced.

"Besides," Warner added, "who am I to judge what should or should not be produced? To some families, a loved one being buried in a Bicentennial casket could be a deeply significant thing."

Warner says his efforts to promote the Bicentennial have been answered in the United States and all over the world.

"Never before has there been such a massive volunteer movement in peacetime America," Warner said, noting communitywide efforts all over America and a "tremendous" response from U.S. military bases worldwide.

"Almost 500 U.S. bases are involved in everything from the restoration of old buildings to burying time capsules," Warner said. "And I've noticed a great deal of enthusiasm from personnel in the Pacific."

Warner stopped over for five hours in Tokyo on his way to Australia, there to preside over opening ceremonies of that country's one-month recognition of the bicentennial.

Seventy foreign countries are involved so far in the celebration, Warner says, some through ethnic groups in the United States. In Japan, he noted, a lot is being done through the Sister City program that links American and Japanese cities that have commercial and historical similarities.

The Japanese are also building a $3 million multipurpose theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington and giving cherry and miniature bonsai trees as a gesture of friendship, Warner said.

Besides this, Warner added, Korea is donating a 19-ton brass bell and belfry to Los Angeles, and New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia are planning several projects.

In America, Warner said, more than $7 million of Bicentennial medals have been sold and his agency is having a tough time keeping up with the demand.

And, Warner added, official stickers, pins, ties and the like will soon be going over military counters, along with the bronze, silver and gold medals priced from S5 to $4,000.

And in the United States. he said, the effort is so large and involved it had to be computerized.


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