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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 21, 2024


A bill to establish a V.I. veterans memorial and museum on St. Croix won approval by the Senate Committee on Labor and Veterans Affairs Monday, even though a number of witnesses expressed reservations about the idea.
The complex would honor the more than 3,000 Virgin Islands military veterans. According to the bill, it would be operated by a not-for-profit foundation that would secure funding from corporate and private donations, federal grants and turnkey programs and appropriations from the Legislature. At the committee meeting, however, another source of funding which "wouldn't cost the V.I. a thing" was put forward.
V.I. National Guard Brig. Gen. Cleave McBean said he found the proposal "convoluted." He suggested the lawmakers look into other veterans legislation that has been on the books for a long time and is still not funded. He also said combining a commercial attraction with a memorial, as proposed, was not a good idea. "A veterans memorial is a sacred thing," he said.
Leo Peterson, Legislative Committee chair of American Legion Post 90 on St. Thomas, said veterans who are still alive should be a more pressing concern. "How about helping the homeless veterans, the unemployed, who have no federal housing, no funeral expenses?" he said. "Why, their office doesn't even have a copy machine – just one employee. If you want to do this memorial, do it afterwards."
Peterson said he proposed legislation in February asking for rights for veterans including job, housing and cemetery benefits. The measure has not been acted upon, he said.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, one of the memorial-museum bill sponsors, told Peterson, "We can scale down the project and address some of your concerns."
The unexpected source of funding was advanced later in the meeting by Sal Masi Santamaria, president of Honorary Military Monument & Portrait Corp. of Puerto Rico and the V.I., who was called by Jn Baptiste to testify.
Santamaria exhibited drawings of his own elaborate two-story design for the memorial. It featured painted battle scenes of each war, portraits of V.I. military heros, five walls with names of the deceased, and several statues. It would, he said, come complete with a clinic, cafeteria, theater, administration building and souvenir shop.
With an admission charge of $5 per person, Santamaria said, and with 250,000 visitors a year, the complex would have gross revenues of $33 million over a 20-year period. No one pointed out that the computation works out to $25 million. Later in the meeting, Santamaria said he had meant to mention earlier that it "wouldn't cost the V.I. a thing." He said he had "Patriot missiles" in his back pocket.
He also said he had tried to get Puerto Rico to adopt his memorial plan but that it had not been accepted there because it would have required an $8 million investment.
Santamaria said that Jerry Pierce Santos, whom he described as co-chair of George W. Bush's campaign committee for the Caribbean and Latin America, would be on Thomas Wednesday to discuss the funding with the bill sponsors. The measure is co-sponsored by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, who was not at the meeting, and supported by several other senators.
Asked what interest Santos would have in assisting in the funding, Santamaria said, "I guess it would be good for Bush's campaign."
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, who was sitting in on the hearing, said, "If Santos can raise money" for the memorial "like he can for Bush, then we can use him."
The measure was passed unanimously with a minor amendment by committee chair Roosevelt David on the suggested location for the memorial. Voting for it were Sens. David, Gregory Bennerson and George Goodwin. Absent along with Hansen was Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus. The bill will now go to the Rules Committee.

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