Veterans were honored Friday on all three of the U.S. Virgin Islands with parades, speeches and music.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. led off the parades on both St. Croix and St. Thomas, stepping off at the start of the Crucian parade at 9:30 a.m. precisely (0930 hours, as the military units that planned the parade might have said). The governor stayed for the speeches, then flew back to St. Thomas for the afternoon festivities, leading that parade as well.
On St. Croix, more than a thousand people were drawn to Frederiksted to cheer and applaud as the mostly military parade marched from the post office, down King Street to the gazebo at Buddhoe Park.
Rank after rank of the V.I. National Guard led the way, walking in cadence, the tread of their boots punctuated by the barked commands of their officers. The Guard was followed by the American Legion, rank after rank of men and women who have served their country and on Friday proudly marching again behind their country’s flag.
Also taking part were Coast Guard veterans from the icebreaker Eastern Wind, the Junior ROTC units from St. Croix’s Central and Educational Complex high schools, units of Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, Explorer Scouts and Cub Scouts, the Future Business Leaders of America and marching bands from both high schools.
DeJongh told the Frederiksted crowd that the celebration served several purposes.
"A day like today gives us the chance to say thank you to those who have served, and to say thank you to those who are serving, and to set an example for our children," he said.
Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen pointed out the importance of a local celebration for the national holiday honoring the people who have defended the country in war and peace.
"From the American Revolution of the late 18th century to the Middle East wars in the early 21st, these conflicts have shaped the country’s policies, influenced its culture, defined its borders and cost thousands of lives," she said. "Those sacrifices have also been borne by Virgin Islands men and women of the Armed Forces and we, the people of the Virgin Islands, are privileged to call our heroes son, daughter, mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, and friend."
On St. Thomas, festivities got started with a parade that began in front of the Western Cemetery and made its way through the downtown area and into Franklin D. Roosevelt V.I. Veteran’s Memorial Park.
DeJongh led this parade as well, while groups of V.I. National Guardsmen marched behind in uniform. Residents lined the route, cheering loudly during performances put on by Junior ROTC battalions from the Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean High Schools, which also had their marching bands out playing patriotic songs.
While most residents carried flags that they waved in celebration of the day, some also came out with small signs campaigning on issues ranging from lower electricity rates to election reform. A small group focused on the ongoing controversy surrounding Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, and carried signs that called for her to give up her seat in the Legislature.
Also coming out Friday were the islands’ Boy and Girl Scouts, the Seventh Day Adventist School and the Junior Firefighters, who were followed by a motorcade of National Guard vehicles. Residents then packed the Memorial Park for the traditional Veteran’s Day program, where speakers commended V.I. soldiers for their continued service to the country.
“Our veterans, whether they served in active duty, reserve forces, or the Virgin Islands National Guard, demonstrated that Virgin Islanders were willing to fight, and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice, for their country,” deJongh said during the program. “They helped firmly establish our status as Americans with displays of commitment and patriotism that could not be denied.”
A parade kicked off festivities on St. John as well, as more than 30 members of the American Legion, other veterans, and supporters and members of AARP of the Virgin Islands marched from Cocoloba Shopping Center to the Agriculture Station in Coral Bay.
Jerry Runyon, past commander of Viggo E. Sewer Post 131 of the American Legion, spoke about the importance of remembering Cold War era veterans. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the Cold War.
“We owe a debt of gratitude,” Runyon said.