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  • Two of the country’s ex-servicemen, Earl Barrington Beckford, and Retired Major, Victor Leslie Beek, are the envy of many Jamaicans, as they had the propitious pleasure of meeting United States President, Barack Obama, during his two-day visit to the island, from April 8 to 9.
  • Prior to laying a wreath at the base of the Cenotaph, the monument erected in honour of the thousands of Jamaicans who died fighting during World Wars I and II, Mr. Obama had a brief discussion with the ex-servicemen, during which he presented each with a souvenir coin engraved with the Presidential Seal on one side and an image of the White House on the other.
  • The President, who arrived in the island on April 8, participated in several other scheduled engagements.

Two of the country’s ex-servicemen, Earl Barrington Beckford, and Retired Major, Victor Leslie Beek, are the envy of many Jamaicans, as they had the propitious pleasure of meeting United States President, Barack Obama, during his two-day visit to the island, from April 8 to 9.

The World War II veterans were dignified with the privilege of this momentous occasion, during a wreath laying ceremony at the National Heroes Park in Kingston on Thursday, April 9.

The ceremony formed part of the agenda of the 44th US President’s historic working visit to the island.

Prior to laying a wreath at the base of the Cenotaph, the monument erected in honour of the thousands of Jamaicans who died fighting during World Wars I and II, Mr. Obama had a brief discussion with the ex-servicemen, during which he presented each with a souvenir coin engraved with the Presidential Seal on one side and an image of the White House on the other.

In an interview with journalists, following the brief ceremony, Mr. Beckford, who is 89 years old, described the experience of meeting the man deemed the most powerful leader globally, as “terrific.”

Mr. Beckford, who was attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF), said the occasion was even more monumental for him, as he got the opportunity to meet the first black President of the United States of America (USA).

This, he pointed out, was significant as in 1944, while he and his colleagues were returning home, enroute from duty in World War II, they travelled via the USA, where he saw racial segregation manifested for the first time. This, he indicted, was at an army base, where they stopped briefly.

“The white American soldiers were in one part of the camp and the black American soldiers were in another part of the camp. (So) to have a black President and to meet the black President (in the aftermath of that experience) is great,” he said.

Quizzed as to what he would tell his grandchildren or great grandchildren about the experience of meeting Mr. Obama, Mr. Beckford chuckled and replied “that I’m one of the few who met the President in Jamaica.”

In reflecting on some of his experiences during the war, Mr. Beckford, who enlisted in the service at age 18, said, on occasions, he was frightened. He said, however, that he managed to overcome that emotion, particularly when he recalled that he was among and represented persons advocating a new peace agenda, at the time.

In outlining what the meeting with President Obama meant for him, the 92 year old Mr. Beek said he felt proud of the opportunity afforded him and recognition he received.

“As a matter of fact, my daughter in the (United) States (was so) delighted… that she has insisted that I get a picture… It was a very nice meeting and (it also felt good to receive a) Presidential medal, which I never expected,” he added.

Mr. Beek said it was a joyous occasion, particularly since he and Mr. Beckford are “the last two (surviving Jamaican) members of the Royal Air Force”.

Asked what was discussed with the President, the retired Major told journalists that he thanked them for their years of service, adding that Mr. Obama said “he heard I’m 92 and still flying.”

This is in reference to the evaluation services which Mr. Beek continues to provide to the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Air Wing, as an active pilot. Interestingly, he said he never learnt to fly until after the war, as he was awaiting flight training during his tenure in the service, when the conflict ended.

The retired Major, who also enlisted at age 18, said the experience in the war was very informative and educational, as he learnt, among other things, “ways to work (with other persons) as a team (in order to)…to find…results.”

President, Royal Air Forces Association, Major General Robert Neish (Ret’d), and Chairman, Jamaica Legion, Major Torrance Lewis (Ret’d), were also presented with souvenir tokens by Mr. Obama, during the ceremony.

Scores of persons, not able to access National Heroes park to witness the proceedings, lined the streets of Kingston for hours in an effort to get a glimpse of President Obama.

The wreath laying ceremony was Mr. Obama’s final engagement before departing Jamaica on April 9 for the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama, from April 10 to 11.

The President, who arrived in the island on April 8, participated in several other scheduled engagements. These included bilateral talks with the Jamaican Government; the US-CARICOM Summit at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Regional Headquarters; and a Youth Forum at the UWI’s Mona Campus.

He also made an impromptu visit to the Bob Marley Museum.