Newer generations make sure Graniteville’s ‘greatest generation’ is not forgotten.
In one of the few states that still celebrates V. J. Day, or Victory Day, as it is now known, the village of Graniteville in Johnston is one of only a few sites to hold annual observances. The 16th annual celebration was held on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016 in front of the monument on Putnam Pike. The event was sponsored by members of the Graniteville WWII Veterans Foundation.
The village of Graniteville, in the town’s northeast corner, is bordered on two sides by the Woonasquatucket River to the north and east.
The Putnam Pike site was home to a World War I memorial, and later, to a handmade wooden monument in the 1940s during World War II, listing those serving their country. The wooden sign, created by mothers of those serving, was eventually replaced by a large granite monument with a bronze plaque, naming those who made the supreme sacrifice. The current monuments – plural – commemorate all those who served. On the left side of the central monument, “To Honor Those from Graniteville” who served in World War II, and on the right side, “Those who served in Korea.”
One hundred and eighty-six from the small village of Graniteville served during World War II. Of those, eleven would not return home. The eleven names were read during the ceremony, a wreath and flowers laid on the monument in their memory as flags were lowered to half staff and a firing of arms conducted by members of the R.I. National Guard.
Unable to serve during the war due to medical problems, Bob Jackson and the late Del Riley collected news from home to sent to those serving overseas, the monthly newsletters dubbed “Hot Sketches.” The first issue included lists of service members and their addresses, to encourage correspondence home and to each other.
Living in a home located behind the monument, Jackson’s mother was among those who created the original wooden monument. Bob Jackson attends the event each year, and was present on Aug. 13, joined by his daughter Judy.
“My mother would have the name printed and have it screwed on [to the wooden monument],” he explained. “There’s no more room for any more monuments, they put all the names on it,” he quipped; a small marker next to the monuments commemorates the “Hot Sketches.”
The Foundation, originally comprised of WWII veterans from the village, was formed in 1996. As those numbers continue to dwindle, it is now being continued by a board of trustees, which includes several of the veterans’ descendants. There are very few of the WWII veterans still living, and only a handful in attendance on Saturday, among them Luke Green, now aged 96, who served in England.
The veterans from Graniteville have also been also been memorialized in a book by Sylvia Forrest (wife of Graniteville veteran Fred Forrest) called “Graniteville Went To War,” published in 2000. The book was co-authored by the late Angelo Casale and William C. Northup, Jr., also Graniteville veterans. Casale had brought a folder full of “Hot Sketches” to a 1995 Graniteville School reunion, which sparked Forrest’s interest in assembling the info for the book.
Using the internet and other veterans’ resources, Forrest searched and found many of the veterans, or members of their families, and collected biographical info and anecdotes about their lives before and since the war. The book also includes blurbs from the old war time “Hot Sketches” newsletters.
Two hundred copies of the book were printed, and a copy was presented to each veteran, or a member of the veteran’s family. A copy is available in the reference section of the Marion Mohr Library in Johnston.
Three of those biographies were read at Saturday’s ceremony – among those attending was Sylvia Forrest – describing how their lives were put on hold during the war. Peter Neri grew up on George Waterman Road, and attended the Graniteville School in 1932 when it was brand new. He recalled “setting pins” at Zeke’s bowling alley. He was 15 when the war broke out, and remembered paper drives and scrap drives. He remembered flags in the windows, and star for each son serving overseas. The youngest in his family, his mother would have three stars, for Anthony, Michael and Peter, now all deceased.
In a reading about Northup, he recalled as a child living on George Waterman Road in Graniteville, one part was largely populated by those of Italian descent (near Our Lady of Grace Church), while the northern part was populated by English, Scotch and Irish. Living during the depression, he noted, “It’s amazing how well you got to know people when you all had the same holes in your shoes.”
Following the war, he wrote, “We were all just Americans who grew up together in Graniteville.”
Forrest, during her search, found veteran Donald J. Proctor far from home – living in San Diego, California. Proctor died in May of 2015, and his son wrote a letter to the Foundation members, describing how his dad had grown up in Graniteville, but had served in the navy on the USS Bugara, a Balao-class submarine [see the USS Bugara’s Wikipedia page to read about its exciting exploits during the war]. Following his discharge in California, Proctor stayed out west, went to college on the GI bill, married and started a family. Later dubbed “the old man,” he would serve a total of 35 years in the submarine reserve division.
“It’s important to remember and share these memories, to learn how the past shaped us,” said John Panicucci, who with Marie Carlino Butera, read the bios.
Following the annual ceremony, attendees were invited to visit the nearby Johnston History Museum, which houses many pieces from the village and from World War II, before attending the annual luncheon, held next door at Emilly’s Restaurant.
photos, also by Beth Hurd:
World War II veteran Luke Green, left, chats with Bob Jackson, co-author of “Hot Sketches,” a monthly newsletter from home sent to those serving overseas during World War II.
At right, Skip Healey, past commander of Balfour-Cole Post 64 American Legion, greets veterans attending the Graniteville World War II Foundation’s annual VJ Day observance held on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016.
Placing a wreath and flowers on the Graniteville memorial during the annual VJ Day observance are Laura Charnley Panicucci and Marie Carlino-Butera.
Veterans, including Korean War veteran Ralph Charnley, salute the flag during the playing of Taps and the reading of the WWII honor roll during the ceremony.
Author of “Graniteville Went to War” Sylvia Forrest listens as several biographies and anecdotes are read from her book, published in 2000, co-authored by the late Angelo Casale and William C. Northup, Jr.
See my past stories:
‘Graniteville boys’ remember fallen brothers – from 2009
Local veteran recalls when ‘Graniteville Went to War’ – from 2007
“Graniteville World War II Veteran Angelo Casale remembered,” Johnston Insider, 2010
“Graniteville vets celebrate VJ Day, 10th anniversary of Foundation,” Johnston Insider, 2010
2010 Graniteville WWII Veterans celebrate VJ Day at monument