WOONSOCKET – Adelard Provencal, 88, got to see a lot of the Pacific Theater while serving a young U.S. Navy man during World War II and will be remembering those times while visiting the World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., this afternoon.
Provencal, a resident of Park View Manor, is on an “Honor Flight” trip to the memorial that will give 64 Rhode Island World War II veterans a chance to see the solemn and thought-provoking tribute to those who fought against aggression in person. He is also traveling with four other veterans from the city that will spend the day with more than 600 WW II veterans from around the country, touring Washington’s tributes to costs of the war, including services at Arlington National Cemetery and meetings with noted fellow veterans such as Gen. Colin Powell. The memorial honors the 16 million Americans who served during the war and the more than 400,000 who died while it was under way.
Also going on the trip from Woonsocket are Joseph Pincince, Jean Dutremble Sr., Joseph Richer and Joseph Brunelle.
Provencal survived helping the Marines go ashore in six assaults on Japanese-held islands, including Guam and Iwo Jima, during his 18 months of service aboard the USS PA 56 landing ship. He made it home to a life with his late wife, Blanche, that included raising two boys, David and Richard, and a daughter, Christine, while working in the construction industry. But Provencal has not had a chance to get down to Washington to see the World War II Memorial since it opened on April 29, 2004, and was looking forward to the trip when contacted on Friday.
“I think it is a great thing that they are doing for the guys that went overseas,” Provencal said of the Honor Flight program organizers.
Provencal’s daughter, Christine, applied to the program for his trip and made all the arrangements for him to attend, he noted.
George Farrell of the R.I. Fire Chiefs Association runs the Rhode Island Chapter of Honor Flight and worked with Ocean State Job Lot to cover all of the Rhode Island contingent’s expenses. The veterans, and a “guardian” assigned to each one to help with their travel, will fly out of the T.F. Green Airport on Southwest this morning and return by 9 p.m. tonight.
Provencal can remember going ashore on Iwo Jima and watching with binoculars from a bridge as the U.S. flag was put up on Mount Suribachi while fighting on the island continued.
“That was quite a thing,” Provencal said. The image made all the more lasting given the scenes he also remembers of the Iwo Jima beaches littered with the bodies of U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers.
“It wasn’t very pretty, but what are you going to do?” he said.
Provencal was also surprised to meet a fellow Woonsocket man on the island, the late Midas Ledoux, who later became a city police officer. “I said, ‘What are you doing over here?’ and it was just a joke, you know,” he said.
“It was amazing to meet someone halfway around the world that you practically grew up with,” he said.
Provencal also participated in the invasions of Kwajaein, Peleliu, Leyte and Luzon, he said. The experiences of those battles gave him a chance to see that many of the Japanese soldiers were just young men like himself and yet so willing to die for their emperor. “When you would look at what happened to those islands, it looked like they just sunk from everything we threw at them,” he said.
Although he made many trips ashore in the landing craft of his ship, Provencal said he doesn’t see himself as a hero in any way. “I didn’t do anything that I am deserving of anything. Those poor guys lying on the beach, they are the ones that had it tough,” he said.
Joe Richer, 85, of Village Road, said he also was happy to have been selected for the Honor Flight and was looking forward to walking through the Memorial on the Mall.
Richer served with the Army during the occupation of Japan and found the people he encountered there willing to working with Americans “once they found out we were there to help them.”
To this day, Richer said he takes pride in the fact the U.S. occupying forces helped to bring democracy to Japan, providing Japanese women with the opportunity to vote and also to break the nation’s “military industrial complex,” while supporting a resurgence of trade unions.
Richer knew his work was important when he would go into the Tokyo in the afternoon and see the thousands of Japanese outside Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters hoping catch a glimpse of him when he left for the day.
“It showed they respected what he was doing,” he said. “For a time there, he was almost more important to them than the emperor,” he said.
Dutremble, 92 years old like his friend Joe Pincince, served with the Navy during World War II. He initially served a captain of a gun crew assigned to protect merchant marine ships during convoys, and later was assigned to a large landing ship while working as the coxswain of a landing craft in the Pacific.
“Sometimes we didn’t know if we were going to make from one hour to the next,” he said while recalling the many times his ship came under attack.
“Our boat used to make a fog screen to protect us from the kamikazes that came over the ship,” he said.
Pincince said he is glad to be making the trip with Dutremble, since the two now try to go on adventures together since Dutremble lost his wife, Madeleine, and he, his wife Laurette.
Pincince served with the Army Air Corps and was in England, and North Africa during his service. He once saw the World War II Memorial while passing through Washington on a trip, but is glad he will get to walk through it today.
“They are coming to get me at 4 a.m. in the morning, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.