May 31, 2004 – Sixty years ago, two of the men were barely adults, 17 and 19 years old. The third man was middle age. What these three Virgin Islanders, honored Saturday by St. John American Legion Post members, have in common was that when the United States was in World War II, they answered the call to serve. They joined hundreds and thousands of their countrymen in the armed forces. For these Virgin Islanders, their service to the country was something to be remembered all their lives.
Legion Post 131 held a breakfast to honor the veterans from that era.
According to Legion member Samuel Morch, a former health administrator, it was a modest gathering: Three friends — Morch, Bob Davis and Jim Boynes — showed up to share memories.
Morch said, "Jim Boynes, he is the oldest of us all. He'll be 92 in October. I'm the youngest at 79."
Their fellow Legionnaires cooked breakfast for the honorees and guests Saturday at the multipurpose center at St. Ursula's Church. The occasion marked the dedication of the national World War II Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In towns and cities across the country, recognition ceremonies were taking place similar to the one on St. John.
Morch was 19 when he joined up on St. Thomas. "I volunteered June 13, 1944, and was with the 872nd Port Company. The Virgin Islands had a contingent of two companies, the 872nd and the 873rd, they included about 500 Virgin Islanders," Morch said Sunday.
"I talked about our experiences in Puerto Rico and New Orleans, seeing racial segregation we weren't accustomed to. We rioted. Riot isn't a good term, but that's what they called it. We said the war wasn't with the Japanese; the war was right there in the South."
"They shipped us to Hawaii. Hawaii was the staging area for the invasion of Japan. Our function in the Army was to load and unload ships with supplies for the guys who were up there who were supposed to be fighting. Good old Harry Truman dropped the atomic bomb and so the war was over. We never — thank God! — we never had to go ahead to invade Japan. I think it would have been even worse," Morch said.
Davis has lived on St. John for years, enjoying life as a photographer and a diver, but when he went to war he did it from Oklahoma City.
"I went in the Marines in August 1943, when I was 17. They needed people. They sent me from the Marines recruiting office directly to the train station. I went to boot camp in San Diego. They sent me to New Caledonia to join a raider battalion but the raiders had disbanded," he said. "They sent me as a replacement to Guadalcanal. There were still a few Japs left who were still hiding in the bushes. Some people think I hate the Japs but I don't." The battle of Guadalcanal is referred to by historians as one of the decisive battles of World War II.
"I went up to Guam," Davis continued, "and then went to Okinawa where we formed the 6th Marine Division. We were part of the assault group that landed in the first wave on April 1, 1945, April Fool's Day. I was wounded in Okinawa in 1945 and that's when my trip home began."
About being honored by his fellow veterans at the Viggo Sewer American Legion Post on Monday, Davis said: "It was nice to be recognized, but the only reason they did it is because we're perishing."
Along with sharing memories, the veterans saw enlarged photos of the World War II Memorial. Morch had visited it in April when it opened. "I had two pictures blown up. The first monument, as you enter, on your right, is the Virgin Islands. I have a picture of that," he said.
The veterans who came to St. Ursula's on Saturday were invited to autograph the photos as a memento of the day. Then, Morch said, most of them went home to watch the televised dedication of the monument in Washington.
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