WEST WARWICK — Against each one of the monuments that lines West Warwick Veterans Memorial Park, a wreath of red, white and blue flowers was laid gently Monday morning in honor of those Americans whose lives have been lost in armed conflict. 

“To most, this weekend is the beginning of summer,” Charlie Petrarca said as Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony got underway. “But for those of us gathered here today, it’s a solemn day of remembrance and reflection.”

Hosted by American Legion Post 2 and members of the West Warwick Veterans Council annually for the last two decades, this year’s ceremony kicked off with a lowering of the flag to half mast and posting of the service colors by members of Troop One Arctic Boy Scouts. 

Following an invocation by Chaplain John Hatfield, Petrarca, who acted as the master of ceremonies, welcomed all those who’d gathered beneath the bright morning sky to “remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”

As Petrarca spoke, dozens of residents, many wearing veteran hats, sat listening in folding chairs. Students in Coventry’s Navy JROTC program stood presenting colors; members of the American Legion Riders and Patriot Guard Riders lined the sidewalk, American flags billowing above their heads. 

After thanking the veterans who turned out, Petrarca also expressed his gratitude to the gathered police officers and firefighters, including West Warwick Police Chief Mark Knott and Fire Chief Jeffrey Varone. 

Others in attendance included Sen. Adam Satchell, Rep. James Jackson, West Warwick town councilors Maribeth Williamson, Jason Messier and Jason Licciardi and Town Manager Ernest Zmyslinski.

Petrarca also gave a special welcome to several Blue Star parents, whose children are currently serving, as well as Gold Star mothers Lynn St. Germain, whose son Sgt. Brian St. Germain was killed in 2006 in Iraq, and Dottie Van Gyzen, whose son LCpl John Van Gyzen IV was killed in 2004 in Iraq. 

Navy Capt. Gabriel Soltero, director of the Naval Staff College at Naval Station Newport, also spoke Monday about the sacrifices made by St. Germain and Van Gyzen. 

“These Gold Star families represent the best of what our nation has no offer,” Soltero said, standing by the base of the World War I Memorial. “Nothing can replace their untimely loss, so it’s important that we remember the courage and selflessness of these Marines.”

Ahead of performances of “National Emblem March” and “In Flanders Fields” by the West Warwick High School band and choir, Soltero delivered remarks as the ceremony’s guest speaker. 

Recalling his own deployment, Soltero offered a glimpse of what it’s like for those servicemembers who go to war. 

“War would test our mettle, as it always does,” he said during his nearly 14-minute long speech. “Despite our confidence in having the best training, best equipment, we relied even more on each other, very much aware that we would have to work together as a team to get the job done.”

Soltero said he and those he served beside focused intentionally on completing each mission safely to distract themselves from the “nagging, yet inevitable possibility that one of us may not make it back.” 

Comparing current experiences with those of the past, Soltero said today’s servicemembers are, as they’ve always been, “mostly young, incredibly courageous” and “a little scared.”

“One other thing that hasn’t changed during our history, sadly, is that not everybody makes it back home,” he added.

More than 1 million American servicemembers have been killed throughout the country’s history, Soltero said. 

“We are a better nation because of their actions,” he continued. “And to them, we owe an enormous debt. And though we will never be able to fully repay this debt, we can and do honor their selfless and heroic deeds by remembering the true meaning of Memorial Day.”

kgravelle@ricentral.com

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