WWI veterans will be remembered
WWI veterans will be remembered
WOONSOCKET – Their names have largely been forgotten, the city squares dedicated in their honor renamed with the passage of years.
But at the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, Woonsocket will celebrate the conflict’s veterans, preserving their stories for future generations.
At the Veteran’s Memorial Museum inside the American French Genealogical Society building on Earle Street, a new area dedicated to artifacts from World War I will remain on display through 2018.
And downstairs, AFGS officials have been hard at work compiling files on the 76 soldiers with Woonsocket roots who lost their lives in the war. The work will culminate with a Veterans’ Day rededication of places throughout the city that once carried WWI soldiers’ names, with new plaques to acknowledge their contributions.
“We’re going to honor them,” said AFGS treasurer Roger Beaudry.
Beaudry has been working for two years to identify the fallen, and create files on each with any records he could find, including photographs whenever possible.
“There were a lot of lists,” he said. “But they were wrong.”
Today, Thursday, April 6, marks the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war, and Beaudry notes it’s a task that is long overdue. Ten Woonsocket squares were once named after WWI veterans, including Depot Square, which he points out is actually “Flynn Square,” and Market Square, which was once known as “Young Square.”
“Nobody uses those names,” Beaudry said. “They’ve been forgotten.”
On Saturday, Nov. 11, AFGS plans to donate new signs to the city with the soldiers’ names, plaques that will be placed at each of the 10 squares as a reminder of the city’s contribution to the war. A rededication ceremony is expected to be held in the museum parking lot.
The 10 are among more than 100 city residents who were wounded in the war and 76 who died. Soldiers with city roots who died in the war include two women, and around two dozen who left their homes in Woonsocket to fight for other countries.
Many soldiers, it seems, enlisted in their native country to fight, or sometimes, in another country entirely. Woonsocket soldiers fought with the French Reserves, Canadian and English forces, and more.
One city resident, Edmund Bourassa, was filming a movie in South Africa when the war began and joined the South African Army before fighting with British forces, and then, finally, American. Beaudry said that according to a newspaper article at the time, Bourassa said he just wanted “to kill the damn Germans.”
Another man of Turkish descent owned a variety store in Woonsocket and left his wife and family in the city to visit relatives in that country, a German ally. He was pushed into service with the Turkish military and eventually tried to run, according to accounts in publications at the time.
“He just happened to be there at the wrong time,” Beaudry said.
“There’s all sorts of stories about these people. It’s amazing what they went through.”
Consulates from Canada, Britain and France have agreed to participate in the November event in Woonsocket in acknowledgment of the soldiers’ service.
Beaudry started the project after looking for information about his grandfather’s brother who served in the war, and discovering how much of the history seemed to be forgotten.
“There’s nobody who remembers the first World War,” he said.
He began his search with records in the Rhode Island State Archives to trace the soldiers’ history, then spent countless hours at local libraries sifting through newspapers from the years 1914 to 1925. He also put out a press release listing the 76 names and requesting that anyone who might have information contact the museum.
The binders he has created will remain in the AFGS archives for the public.
Beaudry points out that influenza was a more common cause of death than wounds in World War I and that some two thirds of soldiers died of disease. He also notes that there are files on twin brothers from the city that died one year apart, almost to the day.
“People don’t know a lot of the stories,” noted Glenn Dusablon, who since 2015 has run Veteran’s Memorial Museum, upstairs from AFGS.
Dusablon now has an entire row in the museum filled with World War I items, from photos and uniforms to posters used to encourage citizens to donate to the country’s bond drives. His collection includes a propeller from an airplane that was marked with the squadron and the names of soldiers, a kit for making dog tags, a photo of the Rhode Island National Guard from 1913 and a siren that was used to scare away animals when gas was released.
“The soldiers could just put on their masks, but there was no protection for the dogs and horses.”
His rare and valuable display also contains clothing, including painted helmets from soldiers on both sides of the conflict, cigarette lighters, ammo boxes, trunks and medals, and an impressive collection of trench art, with intricate patterns carved into cannon shells and other items available to the soldiers.
“These guys had a lot of time on their hands,” Dusablon said, pointing out the elaborate designs.
“It’s tough to find a lot of World War I stuff because it’s 100 years old,” Dusablon said.
One poster on display, used to encourage civilians to donate to the war, shows a soldier ready to ship off with the words, “Goodbye dad, I’m off to fight for Old Glory. You buy U.S. government bonds.”
The items will remain on display throughout the year as the city marks the 100th anniversary. Guests can visit the veteran’s museum on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Beaudry notes that in his research, there were some names that appeared in various newspaper articles and lists of war dead from Woonsocket that he was unable to locate or verify. He is asking that anyone with information on, or photos of, those who served in the war from Woonsocket contact him at RDBeaudry@afgs.org or by phone at 401-651-9473.