Dr. Robert Wright knows what it means to be a soldier.
“When I say soldier, I’m not talking about gender,” he said. “I’m not talking about whatever branch of service or whatever country you’re in. There are some truths that are universal. The Bible talks about and uses the phrase ‘Men who drew the sword.’ That’s the definition of a soldier.”
Dr. Wright was one of several former servicemen and women who were recognised during the annual Remembrance Day Service on Sunday afternoon at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College.
This weekend also marked exactly 100 years since the official end of WWI on Nov. 11, 1918 — the conclusion of more than four years of global warfare.
The names of 76 local veterans were included in a programme for Sunday’s event at HLSCC, demonstrating just how many different armed forces Virgin Islands residents have served over the decades.
Those forces include the British Army, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, the King’s Royal Hussars, the Merchant Navy, the United States Army, the US Marine Corps, the US
Navy, the US Air Force, the US Army Reserve, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Netherlands Navy, the South African Army, the South African Navy and the Barbados Defence Force.
“Truth be told, there are some things we don’t want to remember,” Dr. Wright added at the service. “But soldiers transition into veterans because they somehow find a way to run towards moments that most people run away from.”
Sunday’s event began with a procession into the Eileene L. Parsons Auditorium by former servicemen and women, paramilitary personnel, government officials including Governor Gus Jaspert and Premier Dr. Orlando Smith, flag bearers and others.
Several former servicemen read passages or memorials during the service, such as Giovanni Herbert, who served in the US Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005; Sarah Hatcher Lynch, who served in the Royal Navy from 1991 to 1996; and Jeremiah Frett, who served in the US Army.
Dennis McDonald, another former US Marine, was specially recognised by Deputy Governor David Archer. Mr. McDonald, who was born in 1939 in Boston, Massachusetts, enlisted during the Vietnam War and served for eight years before coming to work in the VI in 1972.
In his time in the territory, Mr. McDonald was the managing director of Island Marine Supply for 31 years and has contributed to Remembrance Day events for 25 years.
After the service, the congregation moved outside to watch the lighting of a “100-year” insignia by the Pathfinders from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Attendees gathered on the second floor of an HLSCC building to watch the act performed on the dark lawn below.
The Fire and Rescue Services Department also held a dramatic lighting of a “World War I beacon of light” and the sound of a bell was played to signify a “ringing out for peace.”
Chief Fire Officer Zebalon McLean said a few words before the 100-year display.
“As a fire officer, the one thing I can identify with is — not only the effort that servicemen and women have put in over the years to get to this point — but the luxuries that we are now being afforded,” he said.
Mr. McLean told the crowd that while the phrase “thanks for nothing” typically has a negative connotation, it’s applicable in another sense when speaking about dedicated service from those in the armed forces.
“In this case, I’m thanking them for the nothing that we don’t have. We don’t have oppression, we don’t have negative values that permeate our way of life, and we don’t have restrictions on all that we hold dear,” he said.
And while many residents in the territory have never been on the front lines themselves, Dr. Wright mentioned during the service that they have survived the “wars” of hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. The ex-serviceman said that there are certainly many undocumented cases of posttraumatic stress after the storms and that Virgin Islanders should maintain their “fitness to fight.”
“The battle still rages,” he said. “The war is not yet over. We can’t give out, or give up or give in.”