November 11, 2018, marked the centennial of the signing of the World War I Armistice. It also marked the 100th anniversary of women in the military. Across our great nation numerous ceremonies were held in remembrance of these two historic events.
At the Westerly High School ceremony on Nov. 9, the staff, faculty and student body came together to honor their veterans: Timothy McLellan and Dora Vasquez-Hellner, who served in the Army; Brad Lamprey, Coast Guard; Arthur Fiore, Marine Corps; and Christopher Hamre and KC Jacobs, Navy. Each staff member was presented with a Veteran lapel pin in appreciation for their service.
Also honored were Dr. John “Coach” Stellitano, who served in World War II, and Spc. Ian Gray, in the current war on terrorism.
Coach Stellitano was a B-17 pilot with the 728th Squadron, 452nd Bomb Group. His period of enlistment was from 1942 until his discharge in 1945. His crew flew 36 missions over Germany. The bomber was shot down, but fortunately he and his crew survived.
After the war ended, Coach returned to the University of Rhode Island and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education. Westerly High School was fortunate to have Stellitano as a faculty member. He taught math and physics for many years and also coached basketball and football for 11 years.
He compiled a 210-82 record and led the teams to four state titles. The WHS fitness center is named in his honor. A new sign was presented at the ceremony that will be hung at the entrance to the center.
Specialist Gray, a valued member of the WHS staff, recently returned from the Middle East where he served with A Company, 1st Battalion 126th Aviation Regiment as a Blackhawk crew chief and Medevac crew member. His unit, part of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, was an asset of the U.S. Army Central Command, in direct support of Operation Inherent Resolve (U.S. operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ) and Operation Spartan Shield (contingency operations in the Middle East) from December 2017 until August 2018.
While deployed, Gray became a pen pal with several students at Dunn’s Corner Elementary School. The students created a special Welcome Home banner that was displayed at the WHS ceremony.
Stellitano and Gray were presented with an American flag that had flown at Westerly High School for one day in their honor. The flags were meticulously folded by Boy Scouts from Troop 16, Westerly, and Troop 21, Ashaway. We are so thankful to Westerly High School for taking the time to honor our comrades. God Bless America.
All-female honor flight
The Rhode Island Fire Chiefs Honor Flight Hub is a tax-exempt organization whose mission is to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at memorials honoring their service and sacrifice. The group is planning an all-female honor flight in April 2019 and is seeking participants and guardians. The list will be compleed in January.
Participants in the honor flights are decided on the basis of dates of service, with top given to WWII veterans who have not yet visited their memorial. Exceptions will be made for terminally ill veterans who have never participated in an Honor Flight. Next priority will be veterans who served between WWII and Korea, then Korean War veterans, and so on in chronological order until the ongoing War on Terrorism. Anyone serving on active duty anywhere at any time is deemed a veteran of that war or conflict.
All veterans within a conflict will be flown based upon a “first-come, first-served” basis. “First-come” is based upon when a veteran’s application has been received by Honor Flight Network Headquarters (HFN HQ) or by the local network hub. Refer to http://rihonorflight.com/ for applications and additional information.
Memorial Day and Veterans Day mark the time that the members of the Amancio-Falcone-Gaccione Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8955 conduct their Buddy Poppy drive throughout Westerly and Ashaway. These poppies, the official memorial flower of the VFW, serve as a reminder of lives sacrificed in the First World War and subsequent conflicts. Donations collected through the poppy drive are used to fund programs for veterans. On behalf of the members of VFW Post 8955 and all veterans, I would like to give a sincere thank you to all who graciously supported our poppy drive. Your heartfelt contributions will assist all veterans and their families who have given selfless service to our country.
Our annual Christmas party will be held on Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Westerly Elks Club. Tickets are $20 per person; the party includes a steak or chicken dinner and music for your dancing pleasure. Contact Peggy Azzinaro, 401-596-4452 for tickets.
Project Outreach. This service is available to all veterans and their families who need information regarding resources and agencies that are available. Our outreach officer is ready to meet with you the first Wednesday and third Monday of each month from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Post Home. Appointments are not needed to meet with the service officer, Walter Kimball; 401-596-0470.
The VFW welcomes as members all who meet our eligibility criteria. It is through service to this country that all our members have earned their elite status. If you have received a campaign medal for overseas service; have served 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in Korea; or have ever received hostile fire or imminent danger pay, then you’re eligible to join our ranks.
New members are always welcome to attend our monthly meetings on the first Wednesday of the month. The next meeting is Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at our Post Home, 113 Beach St. Westerly. If you know of a comrade or family of comrade in distress please contact Comrade Dora Vasquez-Hellner, 401-212-6377 for assistance.
This week in military history
In 1961, U.S. Special Forces medical specialists are deployed to provide assistance to the Montagnard tribes around Pleiku in Vietnam. Out of this will develop the Civilian Irregular Defense Group, a program of organized paramilitary forces among the ethnic and religious minorities of South Vietnam and the chief work of the U.S. Special Forces during the Vietnam War.