June 29, 2008 — V.I. veterans and guests got a peek at a special preview of a documentary featuring interviews of locals who served in World War II. The screening was held at the Myron G. Danielson American Legion Hall in Christiansted.
"It is in the rough edit stage and a lot of work still needs to be done," said Joan Keenan, director of video production, before the showing.
This did not stop many in the audience and those on a discussion panel afterwards from praising it, calling it "excellent" and "touching."
Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis, who was on the panel, said the film managed to catch the "passion" of those who voluntarily went off to help their country in a time of war.
The film project was initiated in 2007 by the local American Legion to collect and preserve the stories of V.I. veterans. The preview and panel discussion was intended to get feedback from veterans during the film's formative stages.
Nearly 40 people spent the late afternoon in the dark main hall, watching images of friends, and, in some cases, images of themselves in "Proudly We Served: Virgin Islanders in World War II."
Participating in the filmed interviews were 14 veterans from St. Croix and nine from St. Thomas. Most of the men started their duties in 1944 when the Virgin Islands was included in the draft. Those men served as medical corpsmen, cooks, engineers and stevedores.
But there were others who volunteered before that date, such as Otto Tranberg, who joined the Navy in 1942.
Some of the recollections recorded by the veterans were humorous and some were hard-hitting.
"I didn't know about discrimination coming from the Virgin Islands," said Reuben Wheatley. "It was a tremendous shock to me to see it in New Orleans."
"The service was good in a lot of ways for a lot of us — we were working," said Wilfred Benjamin. "Economically it was not good here in the Virgin Islands."
Emile Marshal went on a shopping trip to Puerto Rico in 1943. Before he was allowed to leave that island he was told he would have to register for the draft as soon as he returned to St. Croix. He did and spent the next 27 years in the service.
Olric Carrington told a story about an incident that showed in lightsome fashion a soldier's anxiety. Once overseas, a jumpy Carrington was sitting under a tree when a green apple dropped squarely on him — and he thought he was going to die.
The documentary also includes women who played a role in the war. The Women's Army Corp was represented with an interview of Daphne King.
Marshall, Francis and Tranberg served on the panel with Frederiksted Postmaster Carrington and local author Richard Schrader.
Organizers ask that anyone with knowledge of other veterans who should be included in the movie contact the American Legion.
"We will get feedback and improve the product," said Roberta Knowles, Humanities Council advisor. "It is a work in progress."
The program was supported by a grant from the V.I. Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Also contributing are the Lt. Governor's Office, Office of Veterans Affairs, and V.I. Department of Libraries and Museums.
Locations for filming included the Florence Williams Public Library and Caribbean Museum for the Arts.
When the final video is done they will be available for viewing at libraries said Keenan.
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