83.9 F
Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022


Sept. 19, 2001 – Ten days ago, working plans to welcome seven visiting U.S. Navy warships — including an aircraft carrier — to the territory by the end of September had local service providers and suppliers looking forward to a much-needed infusion of visitor spending.
Now, with the Navy on war alert in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, those plans have been put on indefinite hold, according to local residents in the know, and Navy communications reflect a stark change of policy with regard to saying anything about plans at all.
On Sept. 9, Frank Farmer, a member of the United Service Organization (USO) board on St. Thomas, had put out a call for volunteers and donations of food, drink and paper products for naval personnel who would be aboard "ships in the territory later this month."
The next day, Farmer told the Source the ships were from the USS John F. Kennedy Battle Group, including the Kennedy aircraft carrier itself. He had just asked James O'Bryan at Government House for help getting the USO building on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront ready to receive visitors and was about to call AT&T "to get extra phones put in."
He noted that the visit plans were tentative. "It's always tentative with the Navy," he explained, "and then, a week prior to their arrival, we know for sure."
Navy League national director Norma Kennedy confirmed on Sept. 10 that the USS Kennedy would be visiting Sept. 25-29. She knew because her "good friend Mo," the carrier's commanding officer, Capt. Maurice Joyce, was planning to stay at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, where Kennedy works, and "I made his room reservation."
In fact, she said, there already were 40 reservations at the Reef from Navy personnel who would be in port. She added that plans to leave on Sept. 13 for a vacation in Europe would keep her from greeting her many friends among the "typical ship's compliment of 5,800 military personnel."
Also on Sept. 10, Cmdr. John Kirby, Second Fleet public affairs officer in Norfolk, Va., said Navy ships would be visiting the islands "later this month" and that the visit would be "in conjunction with some of our exercises."
According to published reports, the Navy had notified Puerto Rican officials on Sept. 7 that a new round of Navy bombing exercises off Vieques "could begin as soon as Sept. 24" and could last 23 days. Under a 1983 agreement, the Navy is required to give the Puerto Rico government 15 days' notice before the start of exercises.
Kirby added, "We make it a policy not to discuss specific ships, ports or dates, but these are ships of the USS John F. Kennedy's Battle Group, and they will be visiting some ports down there."
That same afternoon, Linda Oliver of the Navy's agent in the territory, C&C Port Services, said the USS Kennedy and six as yet unnamed warships from the carrier's Battle Group were expected. She said plans were being made with the Port Authority for two of the vessels to berth at the Crown Bay dock Sept. 20-24, while two others would anchor off St. John in Pillsbury Sound and another was scheduled to visit St. Croix.
On Sept. 25-29, Oliver said, the Kennedy was scheduled to anchor south of Hassel Island and begin tendering "over 5,000" crew to and from the Coast Guard dock at King's Wharf. At the same time, she said, the seventh ship would be visiting St. Croix.
A day later, all plans were put on hold by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. National reports late that day, Sept. 11, said the USS Kennedy had been ordered to the New York area.
Sindi Coombs, owner of C&C Port Services, said later that her mainland Navy contacts had "not heard from the ships either for a cancellation or a confirmation" of the planned Virgin Islands calls. "It could be nothing more than the ships are so busy doing whatever they're doing that they haven't had time to respond," she said. But "if they're needed in other parts of the world, that's fine," she added, because "they'll come back."
On Sept. 12, Kennedy said she hadn't heard anything but felt sure that the aircraft carrier was "not coming in," because of the reports that it had been deployed to New York.
An e-mail to Kirby on Friday asking for an update on whether Navy ships would be visiting local ports as planned brought the terse response on Saturday that "For security purposes, I am not going to discuss the future movements of our ships."
Also on Saturday, Coombs said she still had received no word from the Navy. But, having advised suppliers that the visits might be off, she "had not had one complaint from a vendor" about the potential loss of revenues. "If the Navy ships come," she said, "we are going to be hosting men and women who will probably be going to war for us in the near future." As such, she said, they should be "treated with as much respect and patriotism as we can muster."
On Sunday, Frank Farmer's wife, Cynthia, said they now do not expect to see the USS Kennedy this month, because of the Navy being put on war readiness. When next the carrier does call in the islands, "We will have to be more than ready to show them how much they are appreciated," she said. "We should greet them with a round of applause," she said, "no matter what."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.


Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
This message is only visible to admins.
Problem displaying Facebook posts.
Error: Server configuration issue