WOONSOCKET – In an era when historical monuments are usually getting attention for being dismantled, one local veterans organization is pushing ahead with a plan to erect a new one in the most prominent location it can find.
And state lawmakers have given the United Veterans Council a $15,000 push closer to its goal of erecting the proposed granite tribute to the city's casualties of World War II.
The latest installment of the funds – $10,000 from the House of Representatives – was turned over to the UVC during a ceremony at World War II Park on Monday – Victory Day, according to Richard Schatz, the past commander of the UVC. Earlier, the Senate provided the group with $4,000, not including another $1,000 lawmakers routinely provide for operations of the UVC, funds which may also be redirected to the cause.
“We'd like people to recognize exactly the sacrifices made by people and our armed forces to have the type of life we have in this country,” said Schatz, 74, an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War. “It seems that too many people go about their day-to-day business and take it for granted.”
A number of state lawmakers who helped secure the special grant for the UVC attended the donation ceremony, including State Rep. Stephen Casey (D-Dist. 50), State Rep. Bob Phillips (D-Dist. 51) and State Sen. Roger A. Picard (D-Dist. 20). But Shatz said the entire delegation deserves credit for the team effort, including State Rep. Michael Morin (D-Dist. 49) and Melissa Murray (D-Dist. 24), who were unable to attend.
The new monument will be located in World War II Park and replace an existing World War II monument in a less-than-conspicuous nook of Precious Blood Cemetery, according to Schatz. Originally dedicated in May 1944 – before World War II was over – the structure has fallen into disrepair.
The original purpose of the monument was to honor the war dead whose bodies were never returned to the United States, according to Schatz. But the list emblazoned on the marker turned out to be incomplete, in part, because the structure was dedicated before the war ended and records were still evolving.
The monument was rededicated by area veterans groups in 1997, according to Schatz, but the names that appear on it is still only a partial roster of city residents who died in World War II. The replacement monument will include the most up-to-date list available, 186 names so far, representing all known city residents whose deaths are linked to their service in the Great War, including those who returned home with injuries or illnesses and died stateside.
While the new monument will correct the omissions of the past, Schatz says it will also be a state-of-the-art marker befitting the dignity of the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The existing marker is not only in a far-flung location that's hard to see or find, its poor condition falls short of a proper tribute for the deceased service members.
Because it is made of ordinary red brick and concrete, it hasn't stood up well to the elements over the years. Bits of it are crumbling away. And parts of the monument that abut the tail end of Diamond Hill Road, close to Harris Pond, are partially obscured by overgrown trees.
“It has fallen into such disrepair, it isn't worth spending money on it to replace it,” according to Schatz.
But Shatz says the most exciting feature of the replacement plan is that the new location at World War II Park will be so much more visible, “especially when the water park is up and running again,” says Schatz. “Children will have an opportunity to see the loss of life and sacrifice that was made by these people – and continue to be made – to preserve our way or life and our freedom that unfortunately too many people take for granted.”
The water feature in the park didn't open this summer, one of the hottest in years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A contractor has not yet been chosen to craft the monument, but Schatz said it will consist of at least two sizable granite panels and will carry a price tag expected to check in at about $25,000 – significantly more than the UVC has amassed so far.
The UVC has a deal going with Chelo's restaurant that allows patrons to pay with special vouchers that redirect part of the meal tab to the monument cause.
It's unknown how much revenue that will be produce, according to Schatz.
Schatz, who wrote the application for the legislative grants, says the many veterans groups represented by the UVC are deeply grateful for the funds, the single biggest jolt for the project to date. He wrote the application months ago, but Schatz says the UVC voted to replace the Precious Blood monument long before that and talk about doing so dates back almost two years.
Still, though, there is no firm timeline for getting the project done and a more aggressive fundraising strategy will probably have to wait until all the economic turmoil and social anxiety over COVID-19 settles down.
“We still have a lot of money to raise, but right now it's very difficult during the pandemic,” said Schatz. “Businesses and so forth have taken a very bad hit. You can't get donations from people that aren't working. When things maybe start to perk up a bit we'll have some sort of fundraiser, but COVID-19 is kind of putting a crimp on everything.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo