May 31, 2004 – Memorial Day was observed Monday on St. Croix at two early morning ceremonies that brought together aging World War II soldiers and youthful Junior ROTC cadets honoring the nation's armed services personnel killed in wartime.
V.I. American Legion posts and auxiliary units were well represented. Observances began with a seaside ceremony in Christiansted and ended with a chapel and graveside service at Kingshill Cemetery.
Led by the Central High School color guard, a procession of uniformed veterans made their way slowly up the steep hill to the small Kingshill chapel. Some with backs bent, some needing the assistance of canes, all wore their military uniforms proudly.
Inside, the pews were decorated with American flags. A black and white MIA/POW flag was draped reverently over a chair, its message, "You are gone but not forgotten," displayed for all to see. When the rows were filled, family and friends took seats placed just outside the chapel doors, where they could see and hear the proceedings. It was the first Memorial Day observance to be held at Kingshill.
"This is a time to honor all that have passed to ensure our freedom," American Legion District Commander Lawrence A. Bastian said.
Annie Day Henry, first vice commander, read the Memorial Day proclamations of President Bush and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. The president called for a national moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. local time all over the country. The governor paid tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Virgin Islands, calling Memorial Day "one of America's most noble traditions" and urging residents to pray for lasting peace all over the world.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen addressed the group, saying said she was "very moved" by this year's memorial events. She attended the dedication of the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. On Monday she called on all V.I. veterans or their family members to post their photographs and biographies on the Black Patriots Hall of Honor Web site, formed to recognize the contributions of black service men and women from the time of the American Revolution to the present.
Virgin Islanders have a long history of service in U.S. conflicts. More than 500 volunteered in the armed services during World War I, even though they were not included in the selective service program. When Congress first adopted peacetime conscription with the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, thus instituting the draft, the Virgin Islands again not included.
After the United States entered World War II, a new selective service act made men between 18 and 45 liable for military service and required all men between 18 and 65 to register. Virgin Islanders — most notably newspaper editor Ariel Melchior Sr. — advocated for islanders to be included in the selective service process.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards noted that he was born in Puerto Rico, where his father was stationed at the time on military duty. He recalled on Monday that many of his classmates were born in Alaska, Germany, France and other European countries because their parents were similarly stationed abroad. "This nation would not be the great nation it is if it did not stand up for freedom," he said.
The names of 34 deceased Virgin Islanders who died within the last year were called from the Veterans Memorial Book. Following the chapel service, some of those present participated in a graveside service.
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