Families of military service members who died or were killed while on active duty took time out on Sunday to observe Gold Star Mothers/Families Day. On St. Thomas, members of the American Legion Post 90 honored six service members and their loved ones.
Mothers, fathers, step-mothers, sisters, aunts and grandchildren appeared at a luncheon held at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Estate Tutu. They remembered their soldiers, one sailor and one marine, who died between 1965 and 2013. They included the first Virgin Islander killed in the Vietnam War, a heroic seaman who died while saving others on a sinking ferry boat, and one with a well-known name, Winston Raymo.
A nonprofit called America’s Gold Star Families calls it “a designation no one aspires to.” That sentiment was also expressed among those who took turns on Sunday posing with framed photos of their lost servicemen.
Ten years after Army Staff Sgt. Lyle Turnbull died while serving in the Persian Gulf, his sister Anna Cantois-Thomas shared her painful memories. “Lyle was my only brother and it’s very hard, very hard … I wish they would have more support for people like us.”
Others, like Malcolm Grant, had made peace with the fate of his son, Staff Sgt. Brian Ecedro Grant. “He chose to go into the Army to serve, and for that I’m grateful,” Malcolm said.
American Legion Post 90 Cmdr. Hillis Benjamin said there were resources for still-grieving families; the Legion could direct those to services that could help them. “We can’t bring it to you, but we can give you the information,” the commander said.
Sen. Dwayne DeGraff, a veteran of the Iraq conflict who served alongside Benjamin, told those gathered on Sunday about plans to create a veterans’ complex in Sub Base. The proposed complex would house the Veterans Affairs Office, housing and “American Legion Post 90 will have a home for life,” he said.
If the project gets the go-ahead from lawmakers, DeGraff said he would like to see the complex named after one of the six who were honored on Sunday: Clarence Beverhoudt, the first Virgin Islander to die in Vietnam.
Benjamin said the Legion’s goal is to hold a remembrance every year, perhaps not as elaborate as Sunday’s event. A simple get-together will do, she said.