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Music, Majorettes Clash with Memorial Day Ceremonies

May 28, 2007 — Cloudy skies and stifling heat were not the only things overshadowing Monday's Memorial Day ceremonies on St. Thomas, as a large group of veterans and a handful of community members had to battle for space with a parade of majorettes marching down Main Street.
Gathering in Emancipation Garden after early-morning ceremonies held at the Western Cemetery and U.S. Coast Guard Dock, members of American Legion Post No. 90 met around 11 a.m. to conclude traditional Memorial Day activities. However, event speakers — along with musicians in the 73rd Army National Guard Band — had a hard time tuning out the loud sounds of calypso and soca music filtering in from the nearby parade.
Speaking later in the afternoon, State Homeland Security Director Mel Vanterpool said the day's unrelated event was just another example of the "disconnect" between community members and local veterans.
"There is no reason why that parade could not have been a part of today's Memorial Day events," he said. "We shouldn't have had to compete with all the loud music; we should be paying some respect to our veterans. Memorial Day is the most revered day in the veteran calendar."
Speaking during the Memorial Day ceremonies, St. Thomas-Water Island Administrator Barbara Petersen made similar comments and pledged to those in attendance that she would "make sure this never happens again."
Turning the attention away from the outside activities, however, Petersen also discussed the importance of Memorial Day and the need to pay tribute to local heroes and their "vigilant efforts" in combat, both overseas and close to home.
"This day is sacred, and it gives us pause," she said, adding that this year's ceremonies were made even more poignant by the recent deaths of Lt. Col. David C. Canegata III of St. Croix and Sgt. First Class Floyd Everett Lake of St. Thomas, both of whom were killed in a helicopter crash over Iraq in late January.
"The loss of these two great soldiers really does bring it home that Virgin Islanders are out there dying as well," Petersen added after her speech.
Local contributions to the ongoing war in the Middle East, along with wars spanning as far back as Vietnam, were also highlighted in statements given during the ceremony by Post No. 90 Commander Krim Ballentine and featured speaker Major Samuel Ebbesen.
"We have always been great patriots here," Ebbesen said, to the applause of the sparse crowd gathered in Emancipation Garden. "We just need a little reminder from time to time."
The Virgin Islands has "many heroes" within its community, Ballentine added, individuals who have died or gotten injured defending the "integrity and character of our country." Like other speakers during the event, Ballentine also emphasized the need to honor local veterans with proper medical care and other related services.
"These individuals have rendered the greatest sacrifice for our communities," he added.
While speaking about the need to honor veterans and service members both in the Virgin Islands and abroad, some speakers and audience members took time to reminisce about their own relatives, some of whom lost their lives in battle.
"Every year this ceremony brings back so many memories for me," said a smiling Sylvanita Smith after the ceremonies had concluded. With an easy air and a twinkle in her eye, Smith spoke softly about her son Llewellyn, who was one of the first Virgin Islanders to die in the Vietnam War in 1966.
Pointing to Vanterpool, Smith added, "I remember how these two boys used to play together when they were little — always together. They were best friends."
Rounding out Monday's ceremonies was a unique performance by the American Legion Post No. 90 Choir, whose soulful voices blended together to send a signing benediction throughout the crowd.
"This is a first for us," Ballentine chuckled, as members of the audience stood up, bowed their heads and prayed along with the music.
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