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By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER â After breaking ground in 2008 for its long-planned National Guard monument and dedicating the engraved concrete elements the following year, members of the sponsoring group faced a solemn reality: They couldnât afford the majestic statue needed to complete the presentation.
In fact, during that earlier dedication, an actual man climbed up and stood atop the massive base, filling in for the missing figure.
Enter North Kingstownâs Lt. Col. (ret) Bob Urquhart, who was urged to take the reins and see the project through to completion.
âThe president of the [RING Retirees Association, the sponsors] came and asked me to get involved. It was going nowhere. There was a committee of eight and the thing never got out of committee; I was the fourth chairman. It took us four years.â
Last Sunday, the combined efforts of Urquhart and his eight-member steering committee as well as the tireless fundraising of honorary chairman, Lt. Gen. Reginald A. Centracchio, retired from positions as both the stateâs adjutant general and National Guard commanding general, paid off.
At an afternoon ceremony attended by approximately 120, the cast bronze figure of a Minuteman, the first guardsman, was unveiled during the dedication of the RI National Guard Living Memorial at the RI Veteransâ Memorial Cemetery.
The six-and-a-half-foot bronze piece was sculpted and cast in Royal, Arkansas, by David and Bre Harris, owners of Light & Time Design. Besides the centerpiece with its six-foot granite base, the site also comprises a background triptych of engraved granite walls and six granite benches arranged in a semi-circle. Those pieces were crafted by Jack Afonso of Riverside Stone, in Seekonk, who used 25 tons of granite.
Centracchio, who founded the RI National Guard Retirees Association in 1995 âfor the sole purpose of ensuring our retirees will be kept in the loop and have access to all the residual benefitsâ and resources, served as the prime fundraising. He had an advantage because his high rank thrust him into top political and civic circles.
âI challenged other officers and dignitaries,â says the general, who personally purchased one of the $5,000 benches. âI challenged people to meet my donation and went out and asked people to buy a bench.â Five others joined him in purchasing benches. âYou need to set the example if you ask other people to do things,â he adds.
Centracchio played a pivotal role in getting the memorial project off the ground. Moreover, he had a vision.
âWeâve been planning it since 2003-2004; I told the retireesâ association to go ahead and start. The mission was to get it constructed [but] we took a two-year hiatus to build the womenâs memorial. We felt that was important.â In 1907, the campaign for the Guard memorial resumed.
âWe asked the designer to come up with a [concept] representative of the Army and the Air Force and the Guard from 375 years ago. The mission of the Guard is âalways there.ââ The final product, says Centracchio, ârecognizes the militia and its morphing through todayâs Guard. It is the U.S. Army today.
âWeâre hopeful that [the memorial site] will be a place that can be used for any kind of event by anybody who wants to designate a meeting or a ceremony. Itâs owned by the State of Rhode Island but the National Guard retirees association will maintain it.â
He notes that the organization has a membership of between 500 and 600 ranging from World War II vets through those retired from more recent service.
Centracchio says the majority of the quarter-million dollars needed to complete the site came from individuals, although $55,000 was provided through state grants; a veteransâ motorcycle club and a Harley owners group donated $5,500 from a fundraiser; and more than 650 commemorative bricks priced at $200 and $100 were sold.
Among the nine municipalities buying bricks was North Kingstown whose commemoration was inscribed âIn honor of all who served our state and nation. Town of North Kingstown. Incorporated 1674.â Employees of a number of companies also purchased bricks, among them Electric Boat.
Bricks are still being sold to raise money for future maintenance of the memorial. Order forms are available online at www.ringretirees.homestead.com. Information can also be obtained simply by Googling RING retirees.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.