Tag Archives: World War II

More than seventy years later, a WWII-era photograph travels across generations and an ocean to return home

As the number of living World War II veterans continues to dwindle, the importance of documenting their stories is more important than ever.

In 1945, a twenty-year old army veteran of World War II returned to Rhode Island following a stint as a cook, serving under General Patton. He eventually married, built a house in Johnston, and raised seven children.

Federico “Fred” Paolucci, was born in 1925, the son of Italian immigrants. He was the only son and he and his five sisters grew up in North Providence. Fred would have a variety of jobs, including working at Brown & Sharpe, at a fireworks factory, and for the Johnston School Department.

Later in life, Paolucci was well known for his sign art, homemade and hand-lettered folk art-style signs commenting on anything and everything he found interesting in the news of the day. After his retirement from the Johnston schools where he worked at several schools in the maintenance department, he found a hobby. Often using recycled items, he created his sign art in his garage, often while listening to talk radio. The signs were displayed in his yard and on the facade of his garage.

An ocean away from Johnston, Rhode Island, in Tourlaville, France, Jean-Paul Corbet was going through some family photos last year, scanning them.

Paolucci_Fred_portrait_1944

In uniform, Federico “Fred” Paolucci, age 19

Among them, he ran across a black and white photo of an American GI in uniform. On the back was a name and address written in pencil: Federico Paolucci, 32 Forest Street, Box 77, Centerdale, Rhode Island, USA. [Centredale is a village in northwest North Providence, on the Johnston line.]

“[It] represented a handsome dark GI, a proud soldier taking the pose,” Corbet said in an interview published in a French newspaper. Paolucci was 19 years old at the time.

Curious, he asked his mother, Renee, about the man in the photo.

She told him that Federico was one of the young American soldiers who came to the aid of his grandparents – Paule and Gustave Valognes – and their five children (his mother Renee, Jacqueline, Therese, Paulette and Louis) in 1944.

“When I was young, my grandparents told me their own story and how they have felt the German occupation, the exodus, the liberation,” said Corbet in an email interview from France in January.

“They were simple people, the existential issue for them was live [sic] during this lean time and survive during the exodus. After the 6th of June, they were civilians on the battle field under the belligerent’s crossfire,” he said of their hunger and constant fear – they were lucky to to be alive. Corbet noted that his wife’s family wasn’t so lucky. “My wife’s dad lost his mother and two young sisters,” he said of the loss of life – 37,000 allies and 20,000 civilians.

The family had been evacuated from their home for two months, and upon their return, Renee and her younger sister Jacqueline were underweight and sick. Both were treated in the American camp. Jacqueline was five years old at the time, and reminded the soldiers of Shirley Temple, recalled Renee. “She became in a way a mascot of the camp,” she told Corbet, recalling that the Americans even organized a Christmas party in December 1944. Among the soldiers the sisters met was Federico Paolucci, a cook at the camp.

Corbet went online to find out what had become of Paolucci, and soon found a memorial for him created by his daughter Vivian (Paolucci) Doyon at a genealogy site called Find-A-Grave. He was saddened to learn that Paolucci had died in 2008. He became determined to return the photo, and contacted Doyon, who now lives in Kernersville, North Carolina.

After corresponding by email in November, he sent Doyon the photo of her dad – which had been “sitting in a box for 74 years” as a Christmas present, enclosing it in a Christmas card.

Doyon, who said her father did not speak much of his World War II service, was thrilled.

“This means a lot to me. This story makes me see my dad through the eyes of another, who has seen him through his mom’s and grandma’s stories,” she said. Already interested in the family genealogy, she is now researching more about her father’s military history.

“It blew my mind that this man knew more about my dad in that time period than I did,” she told a local news reporter. She hopes to one day meet Corbet in person.

Corbet, too, is also interested to hear from other soldiers who were stationed at the camp in Tourlaville, France after the occupation ended.

He is quick to point out the fact that after seventy years, his new friendship with Doyon and her family is symbolic of the friendship between the American GIs and the liberated French people, a friendship that continues to this day.

“Every year in Normandy is commemorated the D-Day. More than a duty of memory, it is a recognition, indestructible, eternal – especially for the inhabitants who lived the operation Overlord. We must see this popular fervor, this immense burst of gratitude, these moments of intense emotion, the tears of the pampered and adored veterans idolized and elevated to the ranks of heroes. Our liberators of yesterday are now our very old friends. They have become, without knowing it, icons, true ex-votos of the friendship between our two nations,” Corbet noted, recalling the story on Feb. 6.

“‘The most true friendship between noble souls is that which has for its knot the respectable link of benefits and recognition’,” he said, quoting Francois-Rodolphe Weiss.

An account of Corbet’s story appeared in a French newspaper and also on a local television news channel in North Carolina.

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An English translation of the story that appeared in a French newspaper, featuring a photo of Doyon holding the photo of her father, Federico “Fred” Paolucci.

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Jean-Paul Corbet and his mother Renee holding a copy of the French newspaper featuring their story.

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Graniteville’s monuments, descendants assure WWII vets not forgotten

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

http://johnstonsunrise.net/stories/graniteville-boys-remember-fallen-brothers,58118

Local veteran recalls when ‘Graniteville Went to War’ – from 2007

http://johnstonsunrise.net/stories/local-veteran-recalls-whengraniteville-went-to-war,26795

“Graniteville World War II Veteran Angelo Casale remembered,” Johnston Insider, 2010

“Graniteville vets celebrate VJ Day, 10th anniversary of Foundation,” Johnston Insider, 2010

 

and video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDP4UQZCYPk

2010 Graniteville WWII Veterans celebrate VJ Day at monument