Obama earns ex-servicemen's respect

BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive Editor -- Publications davidsonv@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, April 10, 2015

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BARACK Obama is no soldier. But yesterday the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces earned the respect of four Jamaican ex-servicemen, two of whom are World War II veterans.

Before laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in National Heroes Park in Kingston, Obama -- the first black man to hold the office of US President -- met Major General Robert Neish (retired), president of the Royal Air Forces Association Jamaica branch; Colonel Torrance Lewis (retired), chairman of the Jamaica Legion; and World War II veterans Major Victor Beek (retired) and Earl Beckford.

The president had a brief discussion with the men and presented each with a souvenir coin featuring the Presidential Seal on one side and an image of the White House on the other.

After the brief wreath-laying ceremony, the Jamaica Observer asked the retired soldiers what they discussed with the president.

"I was making sure that he appreciated how much we felt it was an honour for him to come and pay tribute to our veterans, and he said yes, of course, he really does want to pay tribute to our veterans," Major General Neish told the Observer.

Colonel Lewis said Obama thanked them for their service and for the relationship between the Jamaican and American armed forces.

"He was just saying he was proud of the service we have given in co-operation with the United States," Lewis added.

The four ex-servicemen expressed pleasure at meeting Obama, with Neish describing it as a "once-in-a-lifetime feeling".

"As one who has followed President Obama's career ever since he was campaigning and seeing how he's been such a successful president and is now into his second term... the whole time we have felt proud of him and what he's trying to do for the world and for Jamaica. So it was a great honour to meet him," Neish added.

"I think it's a wonderful occasion," Lewis said. "It's the first time I've seen a US president in Jamaica. I wasn't here when President Reagan came. He (Obama) is very bright and he's a nice person."

Major Beek said in his discussion he welcomed Obama to Jamaica.

"I am really elated to have met him. My daughter in the States, when she heard [that Obama was visiting Jamaica] she said we don't get a chance to meet him, so make sure you get a picture of the occasion," Beek said.

Beckford, who said he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1944, told the Observer that he felt great meeting Obama and that the moment held special significance for him.

He explained that after joining the RAF, he and other recruits on their way to England stopped at an army base in the US named Camp Patrick Henry.

"At that camp, they had the white soldiers in one section and the black soldiers in another section. But because we were British RAF, we were in the white section," he said.

"To see that the black soldiers were separated from the white soldiers then, and for me to now see a black president... it is quite an achievement," he added.




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