Organizers Go Ahead with Ceremony to Mark the Occasion, Show They Won’t Be Intimidated
Memorial Day weekend had started with a smile for Veterans Commissioner Roberto Santiago, but quickly on Sunday it turned to a very frustrating time as he got word the that the Puerto Rican Veterans Monument in the South End had been desecrated.
As he arrived with Monument President Tony Molina, his heart sunk.
“I was angered,” he said at the Monument on Memorial Day. “Who would do this? It wasn’t just because of the timing of it with Memorial Day. That anger though quickly turned into a heartwarming experience with the City response. They put it back. If you look at it now, it doesn’t look like it happened. This act of vandalism isn’t going to stop us from honoring our soldiers.”
Molina said he was shocked by it, and it had put a further damper on his Memorial Day – which had already been restrained by COVID-19 restrictions on their usual exercises at the Monument.
“It’s very disrespectful for someone to do this, especially on the day before Memorial Day,” he said. “Maybe they don’t like that the Puerto Ricans have a monument…I hope whoever did this looks in the mirror and feels ashamed for all the pain this has caused. It’s crazy and I’m so upset. We’re Puerto Ricans and we’re hard-headed. So we aren’t going to be kept down.”
The desecrated Monument was discovered on Sunday, with a large granite bollard at the entrance knocked over, and other things damaged and one of the flags ripped down and desecrated.
City Councilor Ed Flynn called the act “repugnant,” but was key in showing up on Sunday with the City workers to help get the Monument in line for Monday’s abbreviated exercises in honor of Memorial Day.
“It’s very disappointing, but I also saw the wonderful spirit of the South End community and the Puerto Rican veterans community come together to fix this so we could properly remember and think about the men and women that served unselfishly in service to their country,” he said on Monday. “I’m so proud to represent the Puerto Rican community and the South End and to be part of this great community.”
Commissioner Willie Gross said there is an investigation into the matter, and while on hand to honor the fallen soldiers on Memorial Day – as he has always attended the Monument exercises – he said he hopes they do catch those who did this. He also added he hopes that once they do catch them, they aren’t let free – a common refrain from him over the last weeks as police have struggled with the justice system releasing arrestees.
Gross said the D-4 detectives are working the case, and they are getting help from headquarters as well. He said they are looking charges of desecrating a monument and also of Civil Rights Violations.
“This is under investigation,” he said. “It’s disheartening for this to happen on Memorial Day weekend…Everybody helped build this country and everyone helped fight to make this the best country in the world. Tony Molina was right when he said they can push us down, but we will get up. Whoever did this will be found.”
He asked the public for help if they noticed anything on Saturday night into Sunday morning, and he said anyone with information can call the anonymous tip line at 1-800-494-TIPS. Or they can report it directly to the detectives at the D-4 Station on Harrison Avenue.
At the Memorial Day exercises on Monday, there was a passion in the crowd that arose from the injustice of the previous day, and it echoed through the words of Molina, Flynn, State Rep. Jon Santiago, Congressman Joe Kennedy III, and IBA Director Vanessa Calderon-Rosado.
Santiago said it proves that more education is needed about the plight of veterans from all walks of life. “There’s still a lot of work to be done in educating people about the sacrifice these soldiers made,” he said. “This is sacred ground. It is either someone who doesn’t know what it means to serve and sacrifice, or they have a condition and don’t understand fully what they did.”