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A warm tribute to Rhode Island veterans

By JOHN HILL | The Providence Journal | Published: November 5, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Tribune News Service) -- More than 300 people gathered in the sunlight for speeches at the State House Saturday afternoon and thousands were at the Waterplace Basin as the sun set and a torchlight procession of veterans marched in a special WaterFire honoring the state's veterans.

The speakers included Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and representatives of the governor, speaker of the House and Senate president.

They all talked of their gratitude for those who served in the armed forces, as well as commending their families back home for the sacrifices they had to make because of it.

The keynote speaker for the afternoon was retired four-star Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the first National Guard commander on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said Rhode Island's servicemen and women were no strangers to duty.

"This state knows what it means to answer the call," McKinley said. "As we gather here, approximately 300 Rhode Island soldiers are preparing to deploy overseas."

The procession of veterans and veterans' family members made its way from the State House steps across the grass near the Blue Cross & Blue Shield Building and down the steps to the basin. They fanned out around the circular pool, standing on the sidewalk that rings the water.

An enormous American flag, held aloft by two high-rise construction cranes, loomed over the scene from the city side of the basin. Five spotlights next to it shot out into the night, their beams revealed by the smoke from the burning wood in the WaterFire braziers and the torches the marchers held.

Over on one side, Musician 2nd Class Edward Reid lifted his trumpet and played the plaintive taps.
Reid, from Louisville, Kentucky, and stationed at Newport, said it was one of the most important pieces a military musician can play.

"You know what it means to the family of someone who has died for their country," he said. "That song is the last thing they hear before they are lowered into the grave."

The night was not all somber, however. Reid was part of a joint land-sea operation, a performance in the basin by his unit, the Navy Band Northeast, and the 88th Army Band of the Rhode Island National Guard.

After taps, Reid rejoined the band, which went on to play a mixture of patriotic songs, including those representing each of the armed services, as well as "God Bless America," and a Billy Joel medley.

Among those in Providence for the procession were Lois and James Brian Wallace, who made the trek from East Sandwich, Massachusetts, for the evening. James Wallace has a double service claim: he served as a captain in the U.S. Marines in Vietnam and later as a helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard on Cape Cod.

"I'd retired and saw an ad that the Coast Guard was looking for pilots," he said. "I didn't even know they had airplanes."

(c) 2017 The Providence Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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