NORTH KINGSTOWN – If you enjoy seeing the 40-plus American flags flying in Wickford during this year’s Fourth of July celebration, you can thank Bill Pennoyer who started the tradition in 2004, aided by Updike’s Newtown Cub Scout Pack 1.
Bill, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, is 68 and is passionate about Old Glory.
“The flag represents the country,” he says simply. “It’s a symbol of our unique origins, the circumstances behind the creation of the United States.” Through the American Legion, he became involved in various flag ceremonies including funeral services and the dedication of memorials.
A Providence native, Bill grew up in Pawtucket, attended St. Dunstan’s and Providence Country Day and received a degree in public policy from the University of Rhode Island.
Government has always interested him.
A former member of Young Americans for Freedom and a Reagan delegate, he ran for office in North Kingstown in 1976 and 1980; he served one term on the School Committee in the mid-‘80s.
Along the way, Bill was asked to help organize the Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades. “At that time,” he recalls, “the sidewalks were in disrepair. There were cast iron pipe sections embedded to hold American flags. Over the years they had become unstable; they were filled with dirt and the pavement was cracking.”
In 2001, the town announced plans to reconstruct the sidewalks on Brown Street and part of West Main. At that time, American Legion Post 12 sent a letter requesting flag poles.
Flag holders are in the little park at the intersection of West Main and Brown and, beginning in the Avis Block, flag receptacles are located on both side of Brown Street all the way down to Phillips Street.
“Initially there were 32 flags,” Bill recalls, “but the parades committee asked for more. Now there are 40 with six receptacles down Main Street. The parades committee also purchased five services flags and a Seabee flag to place around Veterans Memorial Park. A former commander of Post 12 lives nearby and puts those flags up.”
Wickford Cub Scout Pack 1, he notes, “was involved from the start. The Cubs and Girl Scouts received an education in flag etiquette. I found that the kids had regard for the flag; they knew it should never touch the ground. When they were there working at [installing] the flags, it enhanced their interest: it was a worthwhile task, the results could be readily seen and it was fun, too.”
Pack 1 has been inactive for several years but many former Scouts – some adults, others in college – as well as a former Scoutmaster and the parent of a former troop member still volunteer to help Bill put out the flags for patriotic occasions. The grownup Boy Scouts and former Cubs, he notes, put up the two big flags at the town hall.
“I get up early in the morning [to put the flags out],” he says. “Some events I do by myself.”
At McGinn Park, on School Street, Bill says, “the flag pole was unused.” He and local resident Dick August figured out how to work the tricky apparatus and recently hoisted two flags.
Now retired, Bill works as a part-time associate at Walmart and, even there, finds support for Wickford’s special celebrations.
“Volunteerism always pays,” he declares, smiling. “If an associate puts in 25 hours” of volunteer work, “Walmart donates $250 to the organization. I’ve done it for the Cub Scouts and the parade committees and they’ve received the money.”
He has another flag-related job, too.
“I was enlisted by the late Warren Hartshorn, a former American Legion commander, to go out with him to the family cemeteries in North Kingstown containing the graves of veterans. I’ve been doing that for 10 years.”
For his dedication all these years, we salute Bill Pennoyer as well as the flag.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .