Pilot Club decommissions 68-year-old veteran’s memorial

400-cannon-ball-crownPilot Club decommissions 68-year-old veteran’s memorial

By Michael Isam
Special to Historic City News

At exactly 10:00 a.m. Capt. Charles Stratman, USN (retired) rang 4 bells signaling the commencement of the decommissioning ceremony for the decades-old landmark in the northeast corner of the Plaza de la Constitution. The bell was presented to Stratman by the crew of the U.S.S. Tallahatchie County. Stratman held the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was the Executive Officer of the ship.

Kay Burtin, President of the Pilot Club of St. Augustine, began the ceremony by 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 Valdes, one of the contractors who stepped forward and offered his services to help relocate the memorial, after the installation of electrical control panels by the Florida Department of Transportation blocked the clear view of the monument.

“Without them this move might still be in the planning stages,” Valdes said, thanking several other contractors who have stepped forward and volunteered their time and materials.

“The cannon ball atop the memorial will be the easiest part of all, since years of weathering have caused cracks — not only on the coquina sides of the monument, but also on the crown,” Valdes said; giving a brief description of the process for deconstruction. “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.” Erklens reported.

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.

Photo credits: © 2014 Historic City News by Michael Isam, Feature Journalist

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