A crowd of about 200 including the family of William Jolicoeur honored the World War I veteran on the anniversary of his passing in 1921 at Woonsocket Fire Department Headquarters Wednesday.
The ceremony took place next to the recently restored Place Jolicoeur monument honoring the deaths of Jolicoeur, and the sons of Bernadette Gagne, Alexandre, Henri and Louis, who died in World War II.
Place Jolicoeur was first dedicated by Marshall Foch on Nov. 13, 1921 in memory of William. Then on May 30, 1952 the memorial was dedicated in honor of the Gagne Brothers Alexandre, Henri and Louis who all died in World War II.
Members of William Jolicoeur's family were present for the rededication, inlcuding Anita Wilbur, his niece. Wilbur, her husband and two granddaughters had just returned from a trip to Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in France, where William is interred, Tuesday night.
They had never been to William's final resting place, Wilbur said, but when the Place Jolicoeur Monument made headlines after the demands of the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the cross atop it be removed, drawing the support of hundreds, "We just felt we had to go," she said.
Andrea O'Heare, Wilbur's granddaughter and grandniece of William Jolicoeur, reached out to a local historian, Jean Paul de Vries, who has been collecting WWI artifacts for the last 15 years. de Vries agreed to give them a tour of the cememtery and nearby forest, which is open to the public.
Wilbur and Lucien Jolicoeur, William's nephew, each spoke during the ceremony.
"We could feel my uncle's presence as we neared his grave," said Wilbur, describing her trip to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, which, she said, honors 14,246 American servicemen with crosses and Stars of David. "Plot D, Row 18, Cross 20. We prayed and we wept. We placed flowers and we prayed for all our veterans," Wilbur said. "This cemetery affirmed our belief that the spirit of these soldiers shall remain alive forever in our hearts, and that the crosses and the Stars of David can never be removed."
"We, my brothers and my sisters do not know much about him," said Lucien, who was born 27 years after William's death, "except he was a hero in World War I." Lucien said he believed William's spirit has witnessed events since his death, including the original dedication of the monument. "...the one thing I know, is that he was a veteran, and we as a community, should pay respect and honor to all veterans."
Lorraine Correy presented the family with a framed photograph, taken by O'Heare during their trip to France. Wilbur said Correy had asked them for a copy of the photo, but hadn't told them she was going to frame it for them.
Richard Schatz, President of the United Veterans Council of Woonsocket, praised the work the Woonsocket War Memorial Committee has done to restore the Place Jolicoeur Monument, which cost about $1,500. The Veterans Council wanted to restore the monument, he said, but every time they put enough money together, a veteran needed their help.
"We were elated when the War Memorial Committee Formed and took care of this," Schatz said.
Schatz also praised the courage and dedication of US service men and women for volunteering to defend their country, knowing they may not return whole, or at all. He said that though the rememberance of Jolicoeur's death is a somber occasion, it is also cause to rejoice, "Because we have people like William Jolicoeur who are willing to perform this act," Schatz said.
The Pepin family, including co-owners of Pepin Lumber Jeanne Pepin-Budnick and Camille Pepin, were honored for their efforts selling crosses to support the cause of the Place Jolicoeur Monument.