By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (April 29, 2014) – The 68-year-old memorial to veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice was decommissioned by the Pilot Club of St. Augustine, Florida.
At exactly 10: 00 a.m. Capt. Charles Stratman, USN (retired.) rang 4 bells signaling the commencement of the decommissioning ceremony. The bell was presented to Stratman by the crew of the U.S.S. Tallahatchie County, AVB2. Stratman had the rank of LCDR and was the Executive Officer of the ship. The ship, according to the history on http://www.usstallahatchiecounty.com/history.html, began as LST-1154. LST meaning Tank Landing Ship and was one of the only two steam powered LST’s built by the U. S. Navy.
Kay Burtin, President of the Pilot Club of St. Augustine began the ceremony telling of her brother-in-law’s return from WWII in 1946 and the subsequent commissioning of the memorial at the current location. Plaques acknowledging WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans reside on 3 sides with the dedication plaque residing on the east side facing the rising sun. In years past, members of the club would give a day engaged in the age-old tradition of polishing the plaques using toothbrushes readying the memorial for the laying of a wreath on Memorial Day.
St. Augustine Mayor Joe Boles offered a story of his father, a WWII Navy Frogman. “He never spoke of his time in the war,” said Boles. “I can’t imagine what life was like in a war. I did not have to serve because those before us made it so we did not have to serve.” He thanked all who were instrumental in making this move a reality.
Burtin introduced John Valdez, the “anonymous” contractor who stepped forward and offered his services to move the memorial. Valdez thanked several other contractors who have stepped forward and volunteered their time and materials. “Without them this move might still be in the planning stages,” said Valdez. Continuing on, Valdez gave a brief description of the process for deconstruction, beginning with the cannon ball atop the memorial. “That will be the easiest part of all as years of weathering have caused cracks not only on the coquina sides of the monument, but also on the crown.” “If we are unable to remove it intact, we will be able to replace it. In fact we have the technology to recreate the cracks on the sides.”
Col. Rik Erklens, USA (retired), President of the Ancient City Chapter, Military Officers Association of America spoke about the upcoming move, the installation of additional plaques to recognize fallen veterans of the wars since Vietnam. “On the coming Memorial Day, immediately following the ceremony at the St. Augustine National Cemetery on Marine Street, a parade will be formed from the cemetery to the plaza for the dedication.”
The ceremony was concluded with a solitary ring of the ship bell followed by “Taps” offered by John Donlon, St. Johns County Sheriffs Department, retired.