GRENADA - The days leading up to the Oct. 25, 1983, marked a tumultuous period for the people of Grenada. The country’s prime minister and more than a dozen cabinet members had been murdered, a military council dissolved the civilian government, and a contingent of Cuban workers, suspected to be a clandestine fighting force, arrived on the island.
Less than a decade after realizing their independence, citizens of the 344 square-kilometer island nation suddenly saw their country’s future in peril. Increasing concerns over the threat of violence to the island’s population, and its potential effects in the Eastern Caribbean, prompted Grenada’s governor general to request assistance from its Caribbean neighbors and the United States.
Three decades later, the 30th anniversary of the U.S. and Caribbean intervention operation that began at dawn Oct. 25, 1983, to help the people of Grenada restore governance, thwart further hostilities and protect the island’s inhabitants was commemorated during a Grenadian public holiday known locally as “Thanksgiving Day.”
Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, was among U.S. and Grenadian officials attending events scheduled in observance of the island’s national holiday.
The day’s observance events began with a morning ecumenical service at St. John’s Anglican Church in the small seaside town of Gouyave, on the island’s west coast. The interfaith service is organized annually by the Conference of Churches in Grenada, whose chapels take turns every Thanksgiving Day in hosting and conducting the solemn service for the island’s residents and guests.
“We are grateful, first of all, for the heroism shown by Caribbean and U.S. soldiers who, 30 years ago today, answered the call … to restore order and stability to Grenada,” Larry Palmer, U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, told the congregation and its guests. “In a special way too, we remember the 19 servicemen who gave the ultimate sacrifice in this noble cause.”
In St. George’s, Grenada’s capital city, Kelly accompanied the Ambassador to a memorial at Maurice Bishop International Airport honoring those who fought and died during the intervention. There, they joined a police ceremonial guard, the families of fallen troops and veterans of the operation during a wreath-laying ceremony.
U.S. airborne troops parachuted into the airport at the start of the intervention and met heavy resistance. They quickly secured the airport allowing for the arrival of additional forces and supplies, and the evacuation of U.S. and foreign citizens.
At the True Blue Campus in St. George’s University, the U.S. delegation met privately with the families of eight service members killed during the intervention operation. The university hosted the families during its anniversary events, which included a memorial ceremony at sundown on the campus grounds.
More than 500 U.S. medical students were safely evacuated from the university during the intervention. Today, the university is a bustling campus with more 6,000 students pursuing degrees in medicine, veterinary medicine and public health, many of them from the United States.
During the campus ceremony, Kelly joined Dr. Keith Mitchell, Grenada’s Prime Minister, and University Chancellor Charles Modica in addressing attendees, which included Grenadian senior officials, university faculty, community representatives, veterans of the intervention and family members.
Addressing the families of fallen service members in attendance, Modica reminded them their loved ones did not die in vain. “They liberated a country, and they demonstrated to the world that the United States of America can come in with the mightiest military force to restore order, peace and democracy, and as quickly as they came in, they can leave for the self determination and government of the people of that land. They did that in Grenada,” he said.
The names of the U.S. troops killed during the operation were read aloud by their families and members of the university’s faculty and a moment of silence was observed in tribute to their sacrifice and selfless service. In spite of an early evening shower, Cecile La Grenade, Grenada’s Governor General, laid a wreath in their honor at a memorial to them that overlooks the Caribbean Sea.
A reception afterwards allowed many of the attending veterans, alumni, faculty and island residents present during the operation to share their personal experiences and get acquainted with each other.
Overall, more than 8,000 U.S. troops supported the first U.S. military operation against hostile forces since the Vietnam War, dubbed Operation Urgent Fury by Defense Department planners. Supporting them were 300 multinational peacekeepers from Jamaica, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. Though combat operations on the island officially ended Nov. 2, some U.S. troops remained in Grenada until Dec. 12 to assist with reconstruction.
Today, Grenada is a parliamentary democracy that enjoys strong ties with the U.S. and its neighbors. Since the intervention, the Eastern Caribbean has experienced three decades of peace, strengthened security and increased cooperation.
The appreciation of the island’s residents is palpable to anyone visiting the island during its Thanksgiving Day. In his autobiography, President Ronald Reagan described the atmosphere as he recalled a visit to the island several years after the intervention.
“…I went to Grenada and experienced a welcome that showed how deeply the Grenadian people felt about our efforts on their behalf,” he stated. “There were no ‘Yankee go home’ signs on Grenada, just an outpouring of love and appreciation from tens of thousands of people – most of its population – and banners proclaiming ‘God bless America.’”
Speaking to Grenadians attending the memorial ceremony at the University, Kelly echoed the late President’s sentiments. “I’ve never been here before,” Kelly told them, “I’ve also never been to a place in my life as a U.S. military man where, from the minute I get off the airplane until just about a few minutes ago when I walked in here, had a simple citizen say thanks to me … for what my country did for their country … and it’s happened to me since I came to this country last night.”