WESTERLY — The permanent record of Westerly’s war veterans grew by 132 names Thursday with the unveiling of a new plaque on the War Memorial Rolls of Honor.
Korean War veteran Al Almeida pulled a string that dropped a cloth cover to reveal the newest bronze plaque, attached to a slab of blue Westerly granite that forms part of the memorial where Granite Street and Grove Avenue meet at Wilcox Park.
“The veterans have sacrificed so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have,” Almeida said moments before doing his official unveiling duty.
“Freedom is not free,” he said. “And may God watch over our troops.”
It’s the first street-facing plaque that one encounters when walking from Broad Street onto Grove Avenue and passing the memorial.
“When the call came, they rose to the occasion to defend our freedom,” Almeida added. “We should always be thankful for their service.”
Names engraved on the plaque are of those who served in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Gulf War and during the Cold War.
“They’re meant to be a lasting tribute to Westerly veterans who served and are currently serving their country during times of war and conflict,” Dan King, chairman of the Veterans Rolls of Honor Memorial Committee, said. “They provide a visual means for family and the community to remember their contributions.”
With a gentle breeze moving the flags of the various Armed Services branches, the American flag and others, Thursday’s ceremony ahead of the Memorial Day weekend marked a fitting tribute.
“Today we pause to respectfully remember those who were called, those who put their lives on the line for our country and those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our nation, the beacon of democracy for the world,” Westerly Town Council President Edward Morrone said.
The occasion was also a time to remember those veterans who lived, Morrone said.
“Those who return from wars deserve not only our grateful thanks, but also the solemn salute of every American,” he said.
In a blessing, the Rev. Monsignor Carlo Montecalvo of Immaculate Conception Church gave thanks to God for the courage and sacrifice of those in the Armed Forces.
“It has been through their dedication, both to duty and to give you honor, that our country has remained free these many years,” he said.
Several veterans whose names appear on the new Rolls of Honor plaque attended Thursday’s event, including King and Westerly Town Council members William Aiello and Philip Overton Jr., and American Legion Post 16 Commander William Siano, who led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Guest speaker Kasim Yarn, a U.S. Navy veteran and the first director of veterans affairs for the state of Rhode Island, asked how best to approach Memorial Day.
“We know there are going to be some cookouts,” he said with a smile and pat of his belly. “I’m proof of that. But we also know this is a time of sorrow for our Gold Star families. The surviving family members of those that didn’t make it home. How do we honor them, thank them for their service?”
His answer was in the form of three words: remember, honor, teach.
“We remember them through the work we’re doing now,” he said. “We honor them by taking time out to thank our Vietnam veterans, to welcome them home.”
Yarn said veterans can also be honored by helping them to enroll in the VA healthcare system, and he offered to help any present who wished to do so.
Lastly, he urged others to teach by giving children “the tools they need to be successful. And it starts with days like today, to bring them here and show them what it’s all about. This illustrates the best of what Westerly has to offer.”
Buzzi Memorials supplied and installed the plaque, a solid piece of bronze a few feet in height.
“The update and maintenance is a pure collaborative effort between the town of Westerly and Westerly Library and Wilcox Park,” King said.
Wilcox Park Superintendent Alan Peck gave a brief history of the memorial. The Westerly blue granite is from Sullivan quarry. The newer protective bollards and star centerpiece are Westerly red, he added.
“It was quite the task to find large enough pieces to accomplish that,” he said. The bollards were installed after a 2007 drunk-driving crash narrowly missed taking out the cenotaph, the large cylindrical granite structure that forms the centerpiece of the memorial.
Westerly Library and Wilcox Park Board of Trustees President Betty-Jo Cugini said each name represents a story of service, and of courage.
“Many of them are the names of our family, of our friends and of our neighbors,” she said. “Those who have made our community what it is today.”
Likewise, the memorial in the park brings the community together.
“It is more than just beautiful pieces of Westerly granite. It’s an integral part of our shared identity, and a symbol of the bonds that connect us all,” she said.
Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said both communities, Westerly and Stonington, share respect for the service of their veterans.
Stonington plans to dedicate its own Rolls of Honor memorial on Flag Day next month.
“It’s this monument that inspired us in Stonington to create our own,” she said.
WBLQ played a medley of the marches of the branches of the Armed Forces, including the newly-formed U.S. Space Force. While there were no veterans present to stand for that branch, several former members of the others rose to be recognized as their own branch’s march played.
King said the committee will continue to take names, with plans to add to the memorial at a future date.
“If you know any Westerly resident or past resident that has served in our armed forces, contact us,” he said.
The group’s email is email@example.com. Criteria and application instructions on the Westerly Town Website http://westerlyri.gov/761/Veterans-Memorial-Committee.
“We’ll work with anyone to find a way to get a veteran’s name added,” he said.
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