NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — As North Kingstown veterans, their families, the families of fallen service members and town and state officials gathered to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice as part of the annual Memorial Day ceremony, things looked a bit different.
For starters, the Parades Committee had to find a way to properly honor those service members from North Kingstown killed in conflicts dating back to the Revolutionary War while also properly observing social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, with those participating in the ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in masks and standing apart while members of the community watched on the town’s Facebook via a live stream of the event courtesy of the North Kingstown IT department head Michael Forlingieri.
“Well this was something entirely new for us, especially the older hands who are unfamiliar with Facebook and all of the other attachments,” Parades Committee chair William Pennoyer said. “This is something entirely new to me, to do Facebook and all of this, and it was quite illuminating to see Michael do his work.”
“All of the people on the (Parades) Committee are attached to assuring that we have a proper Memorial Day celebration and also a proper means of honoring Veterans Day, so for us to go forward this way was a no-brainer,” Pennoyer added.
While this year’s ceremony may have looked a little different, the sentiment remained the same.
“We are gathered here today to fulfill our solemn duty to remember all those who have gone before us and fought and died for the cause of freedom,” VFW Post 152 Commander and Master of Ceremonies David Ainslie said. “May we never forget their grit, determination and sacrifice they made to uphold the democratic ideals for which our nation is known for.”
Ainslie acknowledged local politicians in attendance, including state Rep. Julie Casimiro and state Rep. Bob Craven as well as Town Council President Greg Mancini, who also serves as the council’s liaison to the Parades Committee, and Councilor Kerry McKay.
Following introductions, Ainslie turned the microphone over to retired Army Chaplain Rev. Lee Hardgrove to give the convocation, who prayed for those who lost their lives in battle, as well as those who have been facing the COVID-19 pandemic head on.
“We pray for those on the frontlines: the medical people, first responders, National Guard, police and fire departments and those who have volunteered their time to help in this crisis,” Hardgrove said, and was followed by Parades Committee member Nancy Hillner, who sang “God Bless America.”
While the ceremony was focused on honoring those lost to war, the current pandemic still was on the minds of many, and how to honor those sacrifices in this current situation.
“This Memorial Day is different considering the physical distancing and safety requirements because of the unprecedented coronavirus,” Ainslie said. “While many Americans will be unable to physically visit loved ones, or traditionally gather to memorialize their sacrifice and commitment this year, we encourage our community to make this Memorial Day as significant as any other in our nation’s history.”
Ainslie called on all Americans to spend the day remembering the servicemen and servicewomen who gave their lives in America’s wars and reflecting on their sacrifices, as well as the families of those service members.
“On Memorial Day, and every day, we honor and salute every man and woman and the remarkable families of those heroes who gave their lives for our nation,” Ainslie said. “Hence, every Memorial Day will forever be a day that means everything to us because our warriors decided we meant everything to them.”
Following his remarks, the laying of the wreaths began, first with MaryEllen Madsen, who laid a wreath at the Civil War Memorial in front of Town Hall, followed by Steve Sarcan of the American Legion Post 12, who laid a wreath at the memorial honoring those lost in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Gold Star mothers Donna August and Donna Coutu laid wreaths at the memorials for their sons, US Army Cpt. Matthew J. August and US Army 2nd Lt. Matthew S. Coutu, who both lost their lives in the Iraq War.
The wreath laying was followed by the firing of a cannon and the ringing of eight bells in honor of those lost at sea, followed by the playing of “Echo Taps” by Joe Smith and John Smith.
“From generation to generation, Americans have answered the call to duty from Bunker Hill to Baghdad, from small skirmishes to epic battles, Americans of every generation have stepped forward to fight for freedom when called upon, and they are doing so today as they stand guard across our nation and around the world,” Ainslie said. “May God bless those we honor today, those currently serving in American uniform and all of our nation’s veterans.”
Later wreath layings were done at the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial at the Elm Grove Cemetery and the Word War I memorial at Updike Park. Video of all of the day’s events can be viewed on the Town of North Kingstown Facebook page.