In a salute to a longtime Inwood resident and military veteran, family friends and other guests will gather at the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence two days before Memorial Day to honor the life of Lacarnly Milton Cross, known affectingly to many as Bill.
“A Life Remembered” will take place on Saturday at 1 p.m. The program includes a remembrance of Cross, a tribute to veterans, a barbecue and an announcement on the formation of the Cross/Moore Family Foundation Scholarship. In June of next year, scholarships will be awarded in honor of Cross and his sister, Bertha Sue Moore, who worked at the community center. She died on Jan. 7. Cross died on Feb. 22.
Cross was inspired to join the military as a teenager, according to Dr. William Culpepper, who knew him for more than 40 years, who said that Cross devoured reading material about the United State armed forces, especially the Air Force. Cross enthusiastically spoke about Generals Ulysses Grant, John Pershing, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton.
“He became particularly proud of four-star General Roscoe Robinson Jr. and four-star General Colin Powell,” Culpepper said. “These were men who shared his ethnicity and who would serve as role models and African-American men whom he could look up to.”
Cross graduated from Lawrence High School in 1961 and enlisted in the Air Force three years later. He served in the military for 22 years, including one year at the Pentagon. He earned the rank of sergeant and was awarded four medals, including a Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze service stars and an Air Force outstanding unit award with a gold leaf cluster.
“I would want people to take from the memorial service that even into death my father loved life,” said Latanya Cross, the only daughter of Bill and former wife, Mary Ellen “Daisy” Cross, an Arverne resident. “He was respected and admired for his altruism and his positive regard for all people. He loved his country and the United States Air Force.”
Born in Bessemer, Ala., on Jan. 15, 1943, Cross was the second oldest of five siblings born to Elder Borden Sr. and Leola Cross. According to family history, his mother feared the lynching of black men across what was called the Deep South, and the possible fate of her sons, moved the family to Inwood.
At 14, Cross became a member of the St. John Baptist Church, also in Inwood, and began to sing in the church and founded several gospel singing groups. He composed and arranged the music and directed the choirs.
“As a child and young teenager, I primarily saw and socialized with Bill at church events and sometimes joined him and his family for Sunday meals,” Culpepper said. “I observed Bill to have an engaging personality, an easy going and ready smile, and quickness to be of service to others.”
His military service took Cross to Air Force bases in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Texas, and to London, Turkey and Vietnam. He also worked at the Pentagon.
“In service to the church and Inwood residents and to military service personnel throughout his career, my dad positively touched all with whom he came into contact as either a friend, mentor, colleague or employee,” Latanya said. “I would also want people to have a renewed awareness and appreciation for our military men and women and their families who valiantly, heroically and selflessly serve the United States and protect our democracy.”
Memorial Day, which this year is on May 26, originally Decoration Day, was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor the country’s dead soldiers. It was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan, then national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. New York was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1873. It became Memorial Day in 1967 and a federal holiday four years later.
Helen Williams Hunter knew both Cross and his sister from the time they moved to Inwood and she worked with Bertha Sue at the Five Towns Community Center Head Start program. Six of Hunter’s relative also served in military from World War I to the Korean War. She remembers Cross fondly for his devotion to her as a friend and his daughter.
“When Billy returned home, he got in teach with me,” Hunter said, “on moving to Texas, he text me every morning. He constantly talks about his daughter Latanya. He was so proud of her going back to school, getting her degree and working for the military.”
“A Life Remembered” takes place on May 25 at 1 p.m. The Five Towns Community center is at 270 Lawrence Ave. in Lawrence.