May 31, 2004 – Drums rolled, a trumpet sounded, and groups of war veterans stood at attention Monday morning in Franklin D. Roosevelt Park at the start of a three-part Memorial Day observance — by land, by sea and by parade — honoring those from St. Thomas who've served their country.
Starting off with a traditional ceremony in Roosevelt Park, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull laid a wreath at the Veterans Monument there. Then the mournful tones of the lone trumpet sounded from the back of the gathering, playing Taps.
Another wreath was cast out to sea.
And in a final tribute, in Western Cemetery, another wreath was laid and a salute to the dead was offered by members of the American Legion Auxiliary Post 90. A V.I. National Guard rifle team and a Junior ROTC unit took part in each observance.
While hundreds of thousands veterans traveled to the nation's capital for Saturday's dedication of the national World War II Veterans Memorial, a bare handful of onlookers attended the modest Monday morning ceremony on St. Thomas for the territory's war veterans.
Two Virgin Islanders have been killed in action in Iraq: Army Staff Sgt. Kendall Thomas, 36, of St. Thomas, who died in Baghdad on April 28, and Shane Goldman, 19, a Texan who had moved to St. Croix, who died on April 5. Both were paid tribute by Justin Harrigan, director of the Office of Veterans Affairs and master of ceremonies for Monday's observance.
Standing proud, several of the veterans expressed dismay at the small turnout. After his commendation for the veterans at the well-ordered and on-time ceremony, Turnbull later expressed the wish that the event had been better attended. "I would have liked to see more people here today," he said, "especially since this is the 60th anniversary of D-Day."
Roosevelt Park was decorated in red, white and blue as honor guards and groups of veterans stood at attention. Some of those veterans were happy to share their histories.
Alvin Petersen is an Army Signal Corps veteran who served during the Korean conflict at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Fort Lewis in Washington State and, finally, Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico. Petersen said he watched the "Sixty Minutes" television show on Sunday night. Introduced by Andy Rooney, the show presented a tribute of about 10 minutes to the soldiers killed in Iraq. The somber sequences of photographs, backed by a haunting musical score, showed the young men and women, some happy, some serious, all of whom have lost their lives.
"It's terrible to think of the young lives lost," Petersen said. "I remember what happened years ago, and to think it's still going on. We hope and pray that the others all come home safely."
Clarence Thomas, 76, a Korean veteran, was a mechanic with the Strategic Air Command during that conflict. He has seen service in Okinawa, Alaska and the U.S. mainland. He didn't want to talk about himself, however.
"Look at my brother-in-law here," he said. "He's the hero; he's decorated." Hubert Raimer, smiling at Thomas, allowed that he had done two tours of duty in Vietnam. "I have 20 years, a career soldier," he said. During combat in Vietnam, Raimer was injured by shrapnel which he said "is still in me." He received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
Raimer,68, was the first adviser to the V.I. National Guard when it was organized 30 years ago. He and Thomas both lamented the aftermath of the Vietnam War. "The worst thing," Raimer said, was that "after I got wounded, they pardoned those guys who went to Canada to dodge the draft, but they, the Americans, treated us like dirt."
Both veterans were more caught up in current-day affairs than reminiscences. American Legion Post No. 90 is the only one on St. Thomas, although there are three on St. Croix. "We are trying to start one on St. John," Thomas said. "If we have five posts in the Virgin Islands, then we won't have to be under Puerto Rico jurisdiction. We can represent ourselves."
Sen. Louis Hill, an observer at the observance, brought up another concern of the veterans: the slow progress on the proposed East End cemetery for St. Thomas."Now is the time for the executive branch to act," Hill said. "We need to establish the East End cemetery. There is an area earmarked for veterans there, and it should be completed at the earliest possible date."
He continued, "The administration is responsible for submitting a formal proposal to the Veterans Administration. I call on the governor and Justin Harrigan to submit the proposal. That's what's holding it up."
Members of the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School JROTC color guard and drum corps stood at attention as Lucida Robles of the American Legion Post 90 Auxiliary Unit cast the wreath in a tribute to the dead off the U.S. Coast Guard dock at Kings Wharf. The Kean students accompanied the raising of the flags at Western Cemetery in a final tribute.
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