WOONSOCKET — It doesn’t matter that his uncle is the soldier for whom the World War I monument was dedicated.
It could be any soldier’s name on that monument, says Lucien Jolicoeur, and he would be just as angry if the cross were removed, as a First Amendment defenders group is demanding.
“The cross is my very biggest complaint,” Jolicoeur said in interview from his home in Burrillville Monday. “I don’t care if it’s my uncle or another solider. I don’t think anyone has a right to touch that cross.”
Later in the day, Jolicoeur and his sister, Anita Wilbur, a Woonsocket resident, met with Mayor Leo T. Fontaine for a briefing on the city’s developing confrontation over the monument with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Based in Wisconsin, FFRF has asked Fontaine to remove the cross from the 1921 marker outside Woonsocket Fire Station No. 2, calling it a violation of separation of church and state because the monument is on city land.
The FFRF hasn’t filed a formal lawsuit yet, but the Fontaine administration, bolstered by an outpouring of support, is gearing up to fight back if the national nonprofit pushes the issue in court.
Jolicoeur says he might have settled for a more expedient solution, such as moving the marker to private property, so long as it was a prominent location. “It’s already hidden enough,” he says.
But if the city chooses to join the battle in court, Jolicoeur says he fully supports that. And he says he hopes that the big rally planned on behalf of the marker outside the fire station tomorrow will send a strong message to the FFRF that the city isn’t going to simply cave to its demands.
The rally, set to begin at 4:30 p.m., was organized by Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio, former adjutant general of the Rhode Island National Guard, who described the FFRF’s actions as an attack on veterans. A spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence said Bishop Thomas Tobin has been invited to speak at the event, but he won’t be able to say for sure whether he will be able to accept the offer until sometime today. WPRO radio host John DePetro is to serve as moderator for the event, which is expected to draw numerous veterans, according to the mayor.
Army Pvt. William Jolicoeur was killed in World War I some 27 years before he was born, says Jolicoeur, 67, so he never really got to know him very well.
About the only war story that has filtered down through family members over the years is that, on the day before he shipped out, he wiggled two fingers in front of the nose of his younger brother Albert — Lucien’s father — to show him how yellow they were from smoking cigarettes. As the story goes, says Jolicoeur, the display was meant as a warning, so “maybe my uncle was one of the first to realize smoking is bad for you.”
Lucien says his father never served in the military. Albert Jolicoeur was about 14 when William went off to war, and he ended up “too young for World War I and too old for World War II.” But he had a big brood of children.
Six survive as nieces and nephews of Pvt. Jolicoeur, and most of them reside in the Greater Woonsocket area, says Jolicoeur.
In addition to him and his sister Anita, there are two more sisters, Jay Cote, also of Woonsocket and Theresa Mello of Rumford; and two more brothers, Albert H. Jolicoeur of Uxbridge and Robert Jolicoeur of Bellingham.
Joliceour said he found out about the FFRF and its opposition to the monument the same way most people did, from reading about it in the newspapers or watching on TV.
It does seems strange, after all these years, he said, for such a firestorm of controversy to erupt over a monument to a family member he’s never met.
“It does feel weird for a small-city military monument to make big-time news,” he says. “Some of it’s even national news.”