The return of a Veterans Day parade to South Kingstown after a two-year absence will be a special event — one that makes history.
For the first time, the master of ceremonies, the parade grand marshals and the keynote speaker are all female veterans.
It’s a return to the more traditional parade after COVID-19 forced scaled-down ceremonies in 2020, according to VFW Post 916 Commander Joe “Tiger” Patrick.
“For our first parade … since our Veterans Day parade in 2019, we are honoring all of our women veterans,” Parade Committee chair and VFW Rhode Island Sr. Vice Commander Patrick said. “I know we have over a few hundred women warriors locally.”
Veterans Day is the day to remember all those who have served or are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the National Guard and reserves. It is also Armistice Day, which commemorates the end of fighting in World War I.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Sarah Cavanaugh, the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 152 in North Kingstown, is the master of ceremonies for South Kingstown’s event.
It was Cavanaugh who also took on hosting duties last summer in Westerly for the dedication of the state’s new Purple Heart Trail. Cavanaugh received a Purple Heart after her service with the Marines in Afghanistan.
Three Wakefield Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 916 leaders will serve as grand marshals for the parade, which begins at 10 a.m. at Old Mountain Lanes. They are Sr. Vice Commander Tricia Boucher, Jr. Vice Commander Maija Hills and Quartermaster Jennifer Whitworth.
The Wakefield parade typically also includes marchers from Narragansett, such as members of the police department.
After the parade, a ceremony will take place at about 11 a.m. at Saugatucket Park. Rhode Island Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Dora Vasquez-Hellner will give the keynote address, and the Rhode Island Veterans Administration Medical Center Chief of Chaplains, Rotunda East, will lead the opening and closing prayers. East is a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant.
Vasquez-Hellner also was an ally this year in efforts by Patrick to get the state to name Route 4 and Route 1 as Rhode Island’s Purple Heart Trail. Vasquez-Hellner, a 23-year Army veteran, testified in favor of the project before members of the General Assembly.
In true South County style, after the ceremony free clam cakes and chowder will be available at the South Kingstown Elks Lodge 1899, 60 Belmont Ave.
The commemoration of Veterans Day in North Kingstown will begin at 9 a.m. with wreath laying ceremonies at the Veterans Memorial Park across from the old town hall at 80 Boston Neck Road.
A parade committee member will recite the names of the 13 service members killed in Afghanistan during the final days of the U.S. deployment there.
“There were 11 marines, one soldier and one sailor,” North Kingstown Veterans Day Committee Chairman Fredrick Pennoyer said.
Gov. Dan McKee is also scheduled to speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, according to Pennoyer, as well as North Kingstown resident and Brig. Gen. Andrew Chevalier, with the Rhode Island National Guard.
The parade will step off at 10 a.m., with participating organizations and marchers forming at Wilson Park.
“We’re raring to go. People want the parade,” Pennoyer said. About two dozen groups plan to march. They include the local VFW, high school band and the Seabees. New this year is the Providence Drum Troupe.
“It’s a novelty marching organization that takes part in events such as festivals and parades,” Pennoyer said. The group has performed in Wickford in the past.
The U.S. Naval Sea Cadets will assist in the 9 a.m. ceremony as well as at a brief observance before the 10 a.m. parade in Wickford village. It’s a wreath-laying ceremony at the WW I memorial at Updike Park. The cadets lay a wreath in Wickford Harbor in remembrance of those lost at sea during wartime.
The Rev. Lee Hardgrove, a parade committee member, will lead prayers during the event. The North Kingstown Community Chorus will perform the national anthem.
“We have the two ceremonies before the parade in order to prevent the marchers from having to stop,” Pennoyer said. “We find that works much better.”
The parade route follows West Main and Brown Streets through Wickford village to Boston Neck Road and then on to Fairway Drive to North Kingstown High School. Concluding ceremonies will be at 11 a.m. at the school.
The University of Rhode Island puts on its own special Armistice Day event, organized by the URI Student Veterans Organization, with the URI Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs.
The speaking program will look remarkably similar to South Kingstown’s, as several of the women taking part there will also appear in Kingston later in the day.
It takes place at 1 p.m. on the east side of the quadrangle and will feature remarks from URI President Marc Parlange, Vasquez-Hellner, Cavanaugh, East and members of the URI Student Veterans Organization, as well as a presentation of the colors by the URI Army Reserve Officer Training Corps.
This is the fourth annual Armistice Day observance held jointly by the Student Veterans Organization and the university’s Office of Veterans Affairs and Military Programs. Last year’s observance was held virtually.
URI has close to 300 military veterans or active military enrolled on campus, with approximately 140 military dependents.
A resource fair to help connect students with internal organizations such as URI’s Office of Disability Access and Inclusion, the Center for Career and Experiential Education, Student Support and Advocacy Services as well as external veteran and military resources will be held immediately after the ceremony.
The event is free and open to the public.