Military vets from Puerto Rico and St. Thomas joined members of the American Legion Post 131 at a dedication event held March 17. The event marked the opening of a new community center near the Orville Brown Basketball Court.
American Legion district leaders praised the efforts of Commander Harry Daniel and other St. John legionnaires that went into converting a long-closed family restaurant.
The Saturday ceremony also marked a special occasion — the 99th year since the American Legion was formed. A new headquarters was created after the groups’ former gathering spot on King’s Hill Road in Coral Bay was destroyed during Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6.
Daniel said converting the old Daniel’s Restaurant into an American Legion Center was a temporary move until a permanent location could be identified on island.
“I know a lot of people who come up in this area have said, ‘Remember the good old days here.’ Well, we were singing in the wilderness for a while and I decided to make good use of the building,” he said.
Senator-At-Large Brian Smith was among the featured speakers. He commended Daniel for a lifetime of community service. To illustrate, Smith told a story about a clean up in Cruz Bay 25 years ago where, he, Daniel and others spent time picking up bottles and cleaning curbsides.
The Post 131 commander offered the lawmaker a handshake and a wish.
“I understand efforts are being made to dedicate parts of the Virgin Islands to veterans. St. John has not had a spot chosen yet. I’d like to see the traffic circle near the bandstand dedicated as the Veteran’s circle,” he said.
District Vice Commander Edwin Vargas spoke about the ties between veterans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. He counted the 2017 hurricane season among them. As he spoke on St. John over the weekend, there were still 120,000 Puerto Ricans without electricity.
Their collective plight made into the remarks National Commander Denise Rohan as she recently testified before Congress. Rohan concluded her remarks by telling members of the House & Senate Committees on Veteran’s Affairs not to forget vets from Puerto Rico and the V.I.
“She told Congress and reminded Congress that we are not only citizens but we are veterans,” Vargas said.
And while the vice commander said he did not know the old Post 131 was destroyed in the storm, National Legion Committeeman Angel Navez said he could think of little else. From the time he heard about the destruction, Navez said he wanted to be part of a rededication ceremony on St. John.
“If we don’t take care of each other, who is going to take care of us?” he said. The example was set over the weekend with a presentation by the American Legion of Indianapolis, who presented two checks, one for Post 131 on St. John; the other to Post 133 in Frederiksted.
Those presentations, totaling over $10,000, were made at Legion District 10 in Puerto Rico.