A small but dedicated group of military veterans met Thursday in Cruz Bay to hear ideas about a public display honoring their service. St. Thomas Senator Dwayne DeGraff hosted the town meeting at the St. John Legislature.
Much of the evening’s discussion centered on Act. No. 8281, passed in the 33rd Legislature and signed by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. The measure seeks to create a veteran’s memorial for the island of St. John. “ … by enacting this Act, the Virgin Islands veterans of the United States Armed Forces who lost their lives during their military service will be recognized for their contributions and sacrifices,” the bill says.
The act was passed as Bill No. 33-0127, sponsored by former Senator Athniel “Bobby” Thomas. Thomas addressed the gathering on Thursday, along with DeGraff, Office of Veterans Affairs Director Patrick Farrell and St. John Administrator Shikima Jones-Sprauve.
DeGraff said the proposed veteran’s memorial is “something that is owed to St. John.” But to move from concept to creation, the senator said several matters must be addressed. The original plan was to create the monument at the Cruz Bay Traffic Circle, the juncture of five public roads leading to different parts of the island.
But after consulting with the island’s vets, he said more consideration is needed. Among the vets who appeared at the meeting, all were retired police or park rangers. DeGraff said they have already expressed misgivings about the traffic circle venue.
There were also concerns about the available resources to create the monument. So far, DeGraff said, $20,000 has been identified. Thomas said that the amount of money can’t achieve the goal.
“I agree with Senator Bobby Thomas. Twenty thousand dollars for a veteran’s monument is peanuts,” said Senator-At-Large Angel Bolques. Thomas told the gathering he has reached out to the U.S. Department of the Interior and learned that an additional $500,000 might be available.
It will be up to the Council of the Arts to help create the design for the memorial. De Graff said he invited council director Tasheda Kelsh to join the Thursday meeting, but she did not attend.
The administrator and the Veteran’s Affairs director said they have held informal talks about an alternate location, one that would provide a dignified tribute to all Virgin Islands military vets.
“I promised the veterans of St. John that St. John would not be forgotten,” Farrell said.