This Memorial Day weekend may seem different, given the cancellation of celebratory parades and other events honoring fallen soldiers from the U.S. Virgin Islands. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned a typically outdoor holiday into a time to reflect and appreciate the front-line workers who have sacrificed themselves to serve the community.
One of the V.I.’s fallen heroes is Lt. Col. David C. Canegata III, who served in the V.I. National Guard until his death in 2007. A born Crucian, Lt. Col. Canegata volunteered to serve in the Second Persian Gulf War in December 2006. After spending a month and a half overseas, he visited a family member in Iraq. When returning to Afghanistan, the U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter he was in was shot down. The helicopter was transporting 12 prominent officials from Iraq back to Afghanistan.
Nicole Canegata spoke proudly of her father.
“Dad was a quintessential military man,” she said. “He loved his job and what he did. He served selflessly and I truly think he was born for that role.”
She recalled her grandmother and aunt laughingly telling of how he had dreamed of joining the military and would iron his G.I. Joe uniforms.
Canegata’s service began in 1995, and he rose to deputy chief of staff for operations and planning on May 1, 2005. He served as a primary advisor to the adjutant general on matters relating to intelligence, security operations, military support, training, aviation support and counter-drug operations. He also served as a channel of communications for the adjutant general to Chief National Guard Bureau and other agencies, as required.
Canegata is survived by his wife, Shenneth Benjamin Canegata, and his four children, Nicole, David-Mychal, Andre and Jessica.
“Besides his success, my father was a man of God and a family man,” Nicole said. “Whenever he was not working, he was always with us.”
Her father was an active member of his church. He would sing in the gospel choir and taught himself how to play the piano.
“Given his work ethic and willingness to persevere, he inspired me as a small business owner,” Nicole said. She also credits her father for instilling her with an adventurous side. She also said she has been able to honor him by living her passion for photography, something she probably would not have been able to do if it were not for her father’s sacrifice.
“I was able to return to school because of his service. I was able to turn such a traumatic situation around and thank him through my visuals and imagery,” Nicole said.
She continues to create a series using her father’s tags and the American flag. She also captures her visits to his gravesite. Nicole describes her dad as an artist in his own right.
“Not only was he an amateur photographer, but he traveled quite a bit. He would randomly collect these magnets and to continue that tradition, in my travels, I have started a collection of my own.”
This Memorial Day is important to Nicole because it highlights the many men and women who have chosen to be selfless in serving the country.
“I think it is important to honor those who have given their lives for us to have the freedom to live in a country that we love. Sometimes I feel that people miss the real importance of Memorial Day, where it is just another holiday for us to have barbecues. They do not realize the importance of it. I think it is essential that we continue to honor the men and women that have served and that be the focal point of what Memorial Day is about,” Nicole said.
This Memorial Day weekend, Nicole’s family plans on visiting her father’s gravesite.
“We will have a couple of buglers and trumpeters, to celebrate his life. Memorial Day is usually painful for us because it is a reminder that he is no longer with us and this year, it feels amazing to celebrate him,” Nicole said.
“I want people to remember my father for being a good, selfless, kind, honorable, loyal man of God. My dad was the most patriotic person I knew, and he wanted to serve, that was like his ultimate purpose and turned out to be his legacy.”