As the Cayman Islands joined the world in two minutes of silence in remembrance of the world’s war dead, Richard Morcombe silently recounted the names of the friends he had lost in a 27-year career as an anti-tank helicopter pilot with the British Army.
Now a pilot for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, Mr. Morcombe served in the first Gulf War and completed two tours in Bosnia in the 1990s.
“It was very poignant for me today,” he said, “I have lost 30 or 40 friends in flying incidents over the years. During that two minutes’ silence, I go through their names in my head one by one.”
Mr. Morcombe was one of 15 veterans on parade as Cayman’s uniformed services, seafarers, youth and church groups joined politicians and dignitaries for the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony.
Governor Helen Kilpatrick and Premier Alden McLaughlin were among those to lay wreaths at the cenotaph in front of Elmslie Memorial Church in George Town, before a service of remembrance at the church.
Marshalled by Andrew McLaughlin, the president of the Cayman Islands Veterans Association and a former U.S. marine, an eclectic group of military vets, spanning various countries, eras and services, from the Royal Marines to the German Air Force, took their place in the line-up.
Each had vastly different backgrounds and different memories of their time in the armed services.
North Sider Paul Ebanks remembered saving for a year, as a boy of 19, to fund his air ticket to London to present himself at the Holborn Royal Navy and Marines career office, the start of a 9-year career in the Royal Marines that took him to Singapore, Australia, Jakarta and Brunei.
Rudy Kudritzki recalled taking his place in the new German air force in the 1960s, as the country forged new alliances across Europe in the decades after the Second World War. He retired to the island with his Caymanian wife in the 1990s.
Lester Purvis spent five years in the U.S. Army as a rocket launcher systems engineer, including a stint in Korea during the 90s. He now works for BritCay and is launching his own luxury marine tours company, Big Lex charters.
Richard Connolly, now an officer in the Cayman police marine unit, served in South America, the far east and across Europe during a ten-year stint with the Royal Navy.
Larry Rotchell, a veteran of four decades in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, remembered patching under-fire helicopters back together with duct tape during the assault on Stanley at the end of the Falklands War.
Despite the various backgrounds of the Cayman veterans contingent, Mr. Rotchell, who retired to the island with his wife Nurleen, a Cayman Brac native, believes they share a fundamental sense of sacrifice.
“We all did the same type of thing in different ways. We all did a job at times that might mean you had to sacrifice your life and we are all here today to honor the people that have done that in our service,” he said.
Mr. Kudritzki agreed. No matter the background, he said military men share a brotherhood: “To go to war is a political decision not a military decision. The military aren’t the ones that start wars but they face the consequences of those decisions.”
This is true for their families also.
The veterans association, according to president Mr. McLaughlin, is not just for those that fought, but the loved ones who stayed at home.
Nurleen Rotchell recalled the anxiety of waiting for news of her husband from the Falklands, with two babies to look after.
“It was very stressful, worrying. It is not something I would want to repeat,” she said.
For Suzy Soto, whose husband Bob served in the Cayman Islands Home Guard during the second world war, the companionship and camaraderie of the Veterans Association is a blessing.
“My husband died two-and-a-half years ago and this is my family now. If I told you how much it means to me, I would start crying, It means everything to me.”