U.S. Marines' Argentia Monument Farce
When a detachment of 120 U.S. Marines arrived in Argentia on Saturday, January 25, 1941, they established a beachhead at Sandy Cove and immediately assumed security and policing duties for the entire leased area. Twenty days after their arrival, those U.S. Marines sponsored a flag raising ceremony on Black Point to officially establish their presence in Newfoundland.
Black Point was chosen as the site for the first U.S. military flagstaff in Newfoundland because it was a matter of American pride to have the Stars and Stripes in a symbolic position of dominance, especially in a foreign country. The prominent placement of the Stars and Stripes was the unmistakable sign to all ships entering Argentia inner harbour that they were in American territory. The flag-raising ceremony was also intended as a morale booster for the American construction workers and military men who were disillusioned by the severe winter weather.
In order to commemorate both the raising of the first American flag on Newfoundland soil and the arrival of the first unit of U.S. Marines in Newfoundland, the U.S. Marines later erected a monument on the north side of Waterfront Drive ¡ at the point described as N 14,500 by E 5,500 on the U.S. Territorial Grid. Even more specifically, that monument was erected at the foot of Murphy's Hill ¡ on the land which was underneath the parlor of Patrick Murphy's house before it was expropriated in 1920 to make way for the railway terminal. The monument site was also the area where the U.S. Marines first established a beachhead. The site was just 800 feet southwest of where the American flag was first raised in Newfoundland. The U.S. Marines who erected that monument were also members of the first all-military unit to arrive in Newfoundland .
The U.S. Marines' monument was a four-foot stone obelisk with a 10- x 12-inch brass inscriptive plaque attached to the front surface. That obelisk was an integral part of Argentia's U.S. military history. Unfortunately, the monument is now known as ¡°The United States Armed Forces Memorial 1940¨C1991¡± and is located on the northern shore of Quidi Vidi Lake in St. Johns ¡ near the former Main Gate of Fort Pepperrell U.S. Army/Air Force Base.
In the summer of 1991, John Cardoulis, in his capacity as an officer of the American Legion in Newfoundland and in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Legion, the City of St. John's, and the government of Newfoundland, took that monument out of Argentia without the knowledge of the local officials in the region. To add insult to injury, the people of the Argentia region were not even invited to the re-dedication and unveiling ceremony of the U.S. Marines' monument in St. John's.
The whole scheme was carried out when U.S. Naval Facility, Argentia had no permanent commanding officer. Captain Stephen A. Conn (June to August 1991) was the temporary commanding officer between Captain L. C. Bucher (July 1988 to June 1991) and Captain M. R. Fenn (August 1991 to June 1993), and the significance of the U.S. Marine monument to the history of the local area probably had very little meaning for him.
The monument from Argentia was re-dedicated as the United States Armed Forces Memorial 1940¨C1991 and unveiled on Sunday, August 4, 1991. While the bronze plaque that the U.S. Marines attached to the front of the monument in February 1941 was left in place, three other plaques, one on each of the remaining three sides, were attached in 1991. Those plaques were placed on the monument by the government of Newfoundland, the Royal Canadian Legion, and the City of St. John's.
Lieutenant Governor James McGrath unveiled the United States Armed Forces Memorial 1940¨C1991 before an estimated crowd of 600 people. Reverend Edward Rusted, of Branch 1, Royal Canadian Legion, and Reverend Ian S. Wishart, of Branch 56, Royal Canadian Legion, performed the re-dedication ceremony for the Argentia monument. Both branches of the Royal Canadian Legion were from St. John's. Whether by accident or design, the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 33 at Placentia was ignored.
Speakers at the event included Lieutenant Governor James McGrath, representing Queen Elizabeth II; Mayor Shannie Duff, representing the City of St. John's; David Ross, Minister of Works, Services and Transportation with the provincial government; Member of Parliament Ross Reid, representing the distinct of St. John's East in the federal government; Eric Mullett, Commander, American Legion, Department of Canada; and captain Stephen (Steve) Conn, the temporary commanding officer of U.S. Naval Facility, Argentia at the time. Also in attendance were members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Army and Navy Cadets, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, the Signal Hill Tattoo, and the RCMP.
Today, the only indication that the U.S. Marines erected that monument in Argentia is a concrete replica, painted white and surrounded by a chain-link fence. It is positioned on the same base that once bore the original monument. The fact that the concrete replica of the U.S. Marines' monument is even in Argentia is the result of a lot of hard work and lobbying on the part of Alexander (Alex) Bruce, who was living in Placentia at the time.
Bruce was a former Argentia resident and he was very vocal about the fact John Cardoulis was allowed to remove the U.S. Marines' monument from Argentia. From the time he discovered that the monument had been taken to St. John's , Alex Bruce wrote letters to the local town councils, the Argentia Management Authority, Public Works and Government Services Canada, provincial and federal government representatives for the Placentia region, and the Department of the Navy in Washington, D.C. He even wrote to the president of the United States asking that the U.S. Marines' monument be returned to its rightful place. Unfortunately, not one of those organizations or individuals responded to Bruce's request.
Not one to allow the location of the U.S. Marines' monument in Argentia to be forgotten, Alex Bruce hounded officials at Public Works and Government Services Canada ¡ª Project Leader Glen Hynes and senior project engineer Colin Janes ¡ª on an almost daily basis. Finally, after Bruce showed him the original site of the monument, provided him with the specifications, and stressed the historical importance of the monument, Glen Hynes agreed to place a plain concrete replica of exact dimensions where Bruce wanted it. He also agreed to have it painted white and a four-foot chain-link fence
Unfortunately, Alex Bruce did not realize his dream of having the U.S. Marine monument returned to its rightful place in Argentia. He died on October 4, 2004, at the age of 70.
The plain concrete replica of the U.S. Marine monument that Alexander Bruce fought to have erected at Argentia. Photo courtesy of Edward Lake.
The United States Armed Forces Memorial 1940¨C1991 has nothing whatsoever to do with the history of St. John's, and it should be returned to Argentia. Unfortunately ¡ª and in contrast to what they publicly proclaim ¡ª the people of the Argentia region do not appear to have a sincere interest in that part of their history. The past four governments in Newfoundland ¡ª probably at the behest of certain financially influential citizens in St. John's ¡ª have ignored the situation.
If anyone has the urge to do something worthwhile in an effort to preserve the accurate military history of Newfoundland, and the Argentia region in particular, lobbying government officials to have the U.S. Marines' monument returned to its original location in Argentia would certainly be a noble cause! Perhaps the various organizations in the Placentia region could join forces for once to have the U.S. Marine's monument brought back to its rightful place instead of being so preoccupied with their own agendae!
As a result of the disagreement, lack of cohesion among groups, competition for government funding, and poor coordination that exists among the various historical, tourism, and other community groups in the Placentia area, significant historical issues such as the one pertaining to the U.S. Marines' Argentia monument go by the wayside. For organizations that proclaim to be interested in all things historical, the situation is somewhat puzzling. It is certainly in strong contrast to the conditions that exist in the Bonavista region. Unlike the situation in Placentia, every historical and tourism venture in the Bonavista area is planned for the good of the entire region, not just for benefit of any particular community or group. Consequently, the well-maintained tourist attractions there are gradually being expanded and are drawing more international interest each year.