COVENTRY — From Anthony, to Tiogue Lake, to the Pawtuxet River, Coventry residents spent this Memorial Day honoring the fallen during a series of ceremonies that took place at various locations throughout the town.
Organized by members of the American Legion SPRM Post 81, VFW Coventry Memorial Post 9404 and the Kent County Marine Corps League, Monday’s observance included stops at the monument to the Korean and Vietnam wars, the World War II monument, and the bridge on South Main Street. At each place, an invocation was given, the story of a Medal of Honor recipient was read aloud and a wreath was placed.
The tour began at the Anthony Village green, with a ceremony beside the World War I monument.
World War I saw a total of 121 Medal of Honor recipients; among them was Rhode Islander Francis Ormsbee Jr., who was serving at Naval Air Station in Florida in 1918 when he rescued a gunner from a downed aircraft.
“While flying with Ensign J.A.,” his Medal of Honor citation reads, “Ormsbee saw a plane go into a tailspin and crash… having landed nearby, Ormsbee lost no time in going overboard and made for the wreck which was all underwater except the two wing tips.”
From the World War I memorial, those in attendance Monday traveled to Arnold Road, to the lakeside monument to the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Wayne Maurice Caron, a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman and Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in action during the Vietnam War, was remembered for his heroic actions in the moments leading to his death in 1968. The 21-year-old Massachusetts native was wounded three times while he rendered aid to fallen Marines during an intense firefight.
Attendees also reflected on the bravery and selflessness of Fr. Emil Kapaun, a U.S. Army chaplain who was awarded a Medal of Honor having braved enemy fire during a Korean War battle to save nearly 40 men.
Kapaun died in 1951 while a prisoner of war, and his remains weren’t identified until this year.
At the World War II monument, the story was shared of Charles Coolidge, an Army technical sergeant who until his death in April had been the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.
In October of 1944 in eastern France, tasked with holding a vital position on a tree-covered hill, Coolidge led a group of inexperienced troops through four harrowing days of battle. When they met a group of German forces, Coolidge called on the enemy to surrender before they opened fire.
“He assumed command and, unmindful of the enemy fire delivered at close range, walked along the position calming and encouraging his men and directing their fire,” read Marine Corps League Chaplain Jane Deptula, a Marine Corps veteran, noting that Coolidge and his men repelled repeated attacks.
When the Germans eventually asked Coolidge if he’d like to give up, she added, he reportedly told them “sorry Mac, you’ll have to come get me.”
Using grenades, Coolidge inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy before directing his troops once it became clear the position would be overrun.
“As a result of his heroic and superior leadership,” Deptula read, “the mission of this combat group was accomplished throughout four days of continuous fighting against numerically superior enemy troops.”
Following that reading, Air Force veteran David Donovan sang the national anthem. Attendees watched from the sidewalk outside the former police station as the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner” rang through the air.
An American flag flew high above the World War II monument.
The final stop Monday was at the bridge on South Main Street, where Charles McHugh — whose uncle Walter McHugh died when the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was sunk by a German torpedo in 1943 — read the story of World War II Medal of Honor recipient Douglas Albert Munro.
A member of the U.S. Coast Guard, Munro was awarded the medal posthumously for demonstrating “extraordinary heroism,” according to his Medal of Honor citation.
At age 22, Munro was shot and killed while using the boat he was piloting to shield from Japanese fire a landing craft filled with Marines during the Guadalcanal invasion.
“By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty,” his citation reads, “he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished.”
As McHugh wrapped up his reading, a bunch of flowers was dropped from the bridge into the river below, a token of remembrance for those lost at sea. A rifle volley followed, and from across the street, “Taps” blended with the sound of the rushing water.