Veterans Day / Armistice Day in Panama

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Although it was the centennial of the armistice that ended the mostly indecisive carnage that was World War I, a variety of factors kept attendance down at the official ceremony. But people who served later, and Americans who felt a responsibility to stand up for a troubled country, did come to pay respects.

Veterans Day 2018 in Corozal

photos and note by Eric Jackson

November 11 fell on a long holiday weekend in Panama, on a Sunday no less. People gone away to the Interior or out of the country, the Banda Republicana committed to other duties, a short-handed official US presence here, church services conflicting, a conflicted US society and old allies no longer so close all added or mostly subtracted.

The Americans came into the First World War late, after Woodrow Wilson had won an election on a platform of keeping the country out of that conflict. By many accounts the US entry was decisive, perhaps even more so than the great influenza epidemic that killed millions around the world, struck the Western Front on both sides of No Man’s Land and in the end shut down German war production. Canada, however, suffered greater casualties than the United States. For France and the United Kingdom the human losses were catastrophic. Perhaps it could only be said that they “won” because the French Republic and the British royal family remained in place, while the German monarchy was ousted, the Russian Empire lost its monarchs and contracted in to civil war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart and its royalty lapsed, and the Ottoman Empire was also dismembered into chaos that in many ways continues to this day.

But people of many nations fought bravely, often heroically, and the habit had been for a number of years that at the November 11 observances in Panama’s American Cemetery the representatives of US allies in that war — Canada, France and the United Kingdom and sometimes others like the Australians if one of their ships was in port — would gather and remember. But this time there were only a few military officers from other Latin American Republics and the political officer at the Canadian Embassy. The ambassadors of Canada, France, the UK and Germany would be holding their separate event. In France the US president was making an ass of himself in front of other world leaders.

Panama’s American community is as divided as is the USA. There was an election a few days before, but there is no practical way of tabulating the votes cast from Panama. A few more Republicans than Democrats self-identified at the ceremony, but the great majority of those in attendance did not stand along with either of the respective party organizations. But members of both parties were there, neither to gloat nor to revile but to stand for a country in trouble.

It was a farewell event for Oliver Villaobos, the former Marine whose work on the cemetery was plain to all careful and regular observers. This year there were more prominent historical displays than in years past. Villalobos is off to France, appointed to a new post with the American Battle Monuments Commission, which runs the American Cemetery in Corozal. The proclamation was read, the ceremony held and the American community again, despite everything, demonstrated one nation indivisible.

 

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Alice Kittredge puts the finishing touches on the Republicans Abroad wreath.

 

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The US Marine Corps color guard — young men pledged to take a bullet if the need arises in defense of the American diplomatic mission here — marched in.

 

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Stacy Hatfield, American veteran and executive of the Manzanillo International Terminal, which is run by a US-based company, was the honored guest and speaker at this year’s observance.

 

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Roxanne Cabral, Chargé d’Affaires at an American Embassy without an ambassador at the moment, pays her respects.

 

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Chair emeritus Ramona Rhoades and vice chair Kim Antonsen for Democrats Abroad at the cemetery.

 

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