35 years later … Jonestown should be restored as tourist site/ history and memorial ground
By Zena Henry
The 35th anniversary of the Jonestown mass suicide/murder passed largely unnoticed yesterday with none of the major publications or media houses making any mention of the anniversary; but a senior pilot who was on the scene when American Congressman Leo Ryan and others were killed is calling for the areas to be marked as an historical site, memorial and possible tourist attraction.
Captain Rodwell Paul and Captain Guy Spence were the two pilots of the GAC Twin Otter that flew in Congressman Ryan and his team when they visited Jonestown, Port Kaituma. The aircraft was on the airstrip when armed security personnel under the control of American religious leader Jim Jones’ drove up and shot a number of people dead.
It is an experience still clear in the pilot’s mind; the small part he played during that history making event. Paul says that Guyana should use Jonestown to its advantage. While some have stated that one should not capitalize on such tragedies, Paul explained that, “All around the world where a great tragedy has occurred, it is marked and remembered.” He indicated that there is nothing to lose, but a memorial would mark a dark day not only in our nation’s history, but also that of the Americans.
Paul also believes that Jonestown should be restored and used as a tourist site. According to the pilot, Jonestown is now a historical site and,” we should use it to our advantage.” He said also that the area including the trains that ran from Mathew’s Ridge to Port Kaituma could be revitalized. He reiterated that Guyanese need to think outside of the box and mentioned that if a monument is not located at Jonestown, one should be erected. He opined that the area can be preserved and used as a tourism site to generate foreign exchange.
On November 18, 1978, 35-years ago, over 900 women, men and children lost their lives in a murder/suicide tragedy that ranks among the largest mass suicides in history.
Guyana took the world centre stage when Jim Warren Jones, 47 at the time; a self proclaimed preacher, led hundreds of followers of the notorious Peoples Temple to their doom. In a clearing deep within the dense jungles of the Northwest District, Jones fed and forced his followers to drink a deadly concoction of kool-aid drink laced with the poison, cyanide.
The sight of hundreds of dead bodies lying in the vast opening of Jonestown sent shock waves around the country and the world and shone a light on the usually quiet and scarcely known English speaking South American nation.
Hundreds of Americans were killed in the Jim Jones massacre and every anniversary, for family, friends and loved ones of those who perished, Guyana has been on the tip of their tongues. So much so, that currently, controversy surrounds where the location of the Jonestown monument should be.
A report from the South Florida Times said on November 14 that this anniversary was expected to see two competing memorials at a site in the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California, where hundreds of the victims were buried after their bodies were repatriated to the United States.
Strong criticism came when Jim Jones’ name was placed on a plague among the names of the 918 persons he killed. One of Jones’ adopted sons; Jim Jones Jr. is among those spearheading the event. But Rev. Dr. Jynona Norwood, a pastor of the Miracles in Action Faith Center in Los Angeles, who lost 27 family members in Jonestown, including her mother says that, “putting Jim Jones’ name on the memorial is like putting Adolph Hitler’s name on a Holocaust memorial.”
Norwood who also heads the Guyana Tribute Foundation, Cherish the Wall Project has also been in discussions with Evergreen officials to erect a memorial to the 400 or so children that died at Jonestown.
As he was in life, even in death, Jones’ legacy remains one of controversy. The incident that he instigated so many years ago is said to be the single greatest loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until that of September 11, 2001.
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