When William Jolicoeur went off to war as part of the 306th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division in 1917, he was part of a band of men that was very welcome in France. General John Pershing was glad to have them. Marshal Ferdinand Foch was glad to have them.
You see, they were from Woonsocket and could speak the native tongue, making them even more valuable than the other doughboys who were landing in Europe in droves.
The war Jolicoeur fought would be among the most brutal in history. He would face things soldiers in warfare never had â€” machine guns, barbed wire, poisonous gas, flamethrowers and airplanes.
Then, in October 1918, the Americans launched a series of bloody frontal assaults that finally broke through the German line and led to Allied victory.
This assault, known as the Meuse-Argonne offensive, is where Private Jolicoeur lost his life on Oct. 3, 1918.
To honor his memory, a memorial site was consecrated in Woonsocket. Place Jolicoeur, as it would come to be called was enshrined by Marshal Foch himself on a visit to Woonsocket on Nov. 13, 1921.
On May 30 1952, it was reconsecrated when Jolicoeurâ€™s name was joined by three Woonsocket brothers, Alexandre, Henri and Louis Gagne, who gave their lives in the second world war. At that time a cross, made by Herbert and Lester Bicknell, was erected at the site.
It is the only monument to his actions that we have. You cannot visit his grave in Woonsocket, because like so many men who went to France in 1917, Private Jolicoeur never returned. If you would like to visit his gravesite, you'll have to catch a flight to France. He's buried just east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, 26 miles northwest of Verdun â€” under a white cross on American public property.
It may take you a while to find it.
His cross is one of 14, 246 that exist at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery â€” the largest number of American military dead in Europe. The cemetery is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. And Private Jolicoeur can be found at Plot D Row 20 Grave 18.
You see, those crosses were not erected to respect an establishment of religion, nor were they erected to foist Christian beliefs on anybody. They were erected simply to honor the beliefs of those men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country â€” indeed, for all mankind.
After the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, General Pershing said, â€śTime will not dim the glory of their deeds.â€ť
That's why the cross in Woonsocket should not be torn down â€” or even moved. Private Jolicoeur was an innocent young man who went off to face the ultimate atrocity. To remove the one memory of his deed would be the ultimate vulgarity.
For if we do that, we might as well remove all the crosses at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery as well. We might as well pave over the crosses at Flanders Field and build a parking lot. We might as well mow down all the graves at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, the Somme Cemetery or the St. Mihiel Cemetery.
We might as well stop worrying about the 30, 921 American soldiers of World War I who are buried in Europe.
We might as well forget that they ever did anything at all.
Daniel H. Trafford is the executive editor of The Woonsocket Call.