Tom Poole of Woonsocket and Barbara Dardeen of Warwick are spending days at the World War I memorial sporting a cross a national activist group says has to go.
The memorial at Fire Department Headquarters on Cumberland Street, once painted gray, is now speckled with gray flakes of paint. Left to the elements another few years, the cross might leave the memorial without outside help. The base of the cross at the top of the memorial, opposite the plaque, is crumbling. The plaque reads it was dedicated to the memory of William Jolicoueur in 1921. It was dedicated again in 1952 to the Gagne brothers: Alexandre, Henri and Louis.
Once, Poole said, the memorial was part of a median strip before the road through the city was rerouted.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has asked the city to remove the cross and to remove an image and prayer from the Fire Department's website, citing their religious nature.
The cross, at least, won't be going anywhere if Poole and Dardeen have anything to say about it. "We'll both spend as much time out here as we need to, to make sure that the monument stays put," Dardeen said.
"If they're going to move it, number one will it even withstand a move?" Dardeen asked. Secondly, she said, who will pay to move it?
Poole, a disabled veteran, said he read about the FFRF's letter asking the city to remove the cross, and the web images at 2 p.m. Tuesday. He was at the site in front of at 5 Cumberland Hill Road by 2:30 p.m. He was back again Wednesday, this time with Dardeen, who had the day off.
Poole's motorcycle was parked in front of the memorial, next to two folding chairs the pair sat in and a large US flag flapping in a modest breeze. Poole's radio was tuned to a talk show - the subject of the day a discussion of the challenge to the memorial's cross. People have been stopping by to visit the friends all day long and the firefighters have been very supportive, Poole said.
Joe Gamache, a vice president for the Vietnam Veterans of America James Michael Ray Memorial Chapter 818, finds the situation incredible. "It's just unreal, you know? Unbelievable," he said while visiting Poole and Dardeen.
Many local veterans are upset about the demand to remove the Latin cross from the memorial. Gamache said he hopes they make their views heard. "I just hope they rise up and band together on this," he said.