WEST WARWICK — In the center of town, on a piece of land just outside American Legion Post 2, a park installed nearly 90 years ago honors those who have answered the call to serve. The park means a lot to a lot of people, but it’s clear by walking through it that time has taken its toll.
A walkway rehabilitation project is expected to breathe new life into the beloved site.
“This park honors our veterans,” Charles Petrarca, a retired brigadier general and member of the West Warwick Veterans Council, said Sunday, standing among a collection of granite monuments. “It needs to look like a park, and it needs to look beautiful.”
Throughout West Warwick’s Veterans Memorial Park, monuments stand in honor of those who have served in various wars and battles throughout the nation’s history: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, the Global War on Terror. The World War I monument, perhaps the most recognizable of them, stands tall near the center.
A stone pathway laid when the park was established leads through the park.
Installed in 1936, Veterans Memorial Park hasn’t had much maintenance done to it since. The pathway, many of its stones now hidden beneath the earth, is one aspect of the site that's in serious need of some work.
In addition to organizing local Memorial Day and Veterans Day events, the West Warwick Veterans Council is tasked with caring for the memorial park. And now, after months of planning, rehabilitation of the walkway is finally underway.
“We will make sure this park looks how it should look,” Patrarca said Sunday morning, as members of the Rhode Island Army National Guard worked nearby to excavate stones, each weighing between 200 and 500 pounds.
A few months ago, Petrarca put in a project request with the U.S. Department of Defense, and members of the 861st Engineer Support Company, stationed at Camp Fogarty in East Greenwich, were assigned to assist in the walkway's restoration.
“It’s a project I’m passionate about,” Petrarca said, “and I’m happy that, with a lot of help, we’re able to get it done.”
Petrarca also appreciates the support that West Warwick Town Manager Mark Knott and town councilors have given to the project, he said.
“I can’t thank them enough for their support of the veterans in the town.”
In June, the West Warwick Town Council voted unanimously to use $11,950 of the town's American Rescue Plan Act funds to help the veterans council purchase materials for the rehabilitation.
In some places, Town Council President David Gosselin said during the June 7 meeting, the stones at the town-owned site have sunken so deep that they're barely visible.
“Once the walkway is brought back up, it will definitely beautify that park tremendously,” Gosselin said. “I think it’s a great project.”
Council Vice President Maribeth Williamson and councilors Jason Licciardi and Mark Bourget each also spoke favorably of the project. Even had the federal relief funds not been an option, they agreed, the project would be worth the town’s investment.
“We live in a country that, we’re not perfect, but we are the greatest, and it’s all due to the people who sacrificed over the years,” Bourget said. “To have a park that’s dedicated to them that looks dishonorable is a dishonor to them.”
Any additional money needed for the project will be covered by the veterans council, Petrarca said.
In addition to excavating each stone, the project involves laying a gravel base and then resetting the original stones before lining the walkway with hundreds of new cobblestones. The cracks will be filled with gator dust so that no vegetation can grow between the stones; the steps facing Main Street will be repaired.
The project is being done in two phases, Petrarca said.
On Saturday and Sunday, the stones surrounding approximately half of the World War I monument were excavated and reset. The National Guard engineers will return in October to take care of the remaining stones.
Specialist Helder Palrao, a National Guard member who acted as foreman on the project, said Sunday that the engineers have enjoyed giving back to the community by undertaking a project that will “bring the monuments back to life.”
As they worked, each dressed in his National Guard uniform and a hard hat, drivers passing by honked their horns in support.
Petrarca lauded the soldiers for their hard work — the guys put in some 18 hours between the two days — especially considering this weekend’s soaring temperatures. They were fed each day by American Legion Post 2, with lunch donated Saturday by the Valley Country Club.
This project is the latest effort to beautify the park while honoring those who have served in the armed forces.
Sandblasting of the monuments began a couple of months ago. And in the spring, two ornamental trees were planted in honor of deceased veterans. The trees were dedicated on Memorial Day, and monuments will eventually be installed beneath them.
Petrarca said he also plans to improve the site’s landscaping in hopes of creating an attractive place where residents want to spend time.
“I really hope families will eventually just hang out here,” he said. “It’s a beautiful park and it’s right in the middle of town.”
As for the walkway rehabilitation project, it’s on schedule to be completed in the fall. The plan, Petrarca said, is to hold a ceremony to dedicate the newly restored path in conjunction with the annual Veterans Day observance.
Petrarca is enthusiastic about the future of Veterans Memorial Park.
“This is my home, this is my town,” said Petrarca, a lifelong resident of West Warwick. “I’ll take care of it until the day I die.”