More than a thousand people showed for a rally at Woonsocket Fire Department Headquarters answering a challenge demanding removal of religious symbols from the Place Jolicoeur memorial and Fire Department website.
WPRO's John DePetro introduced a long list of dignataries, including Mayor Leo Fontaine and Retired RI Adjutant General Reginald Centracchio on the stage, but people in the crowd made their opinions on the demands of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) known, too.
On the sidewalk in front of Fire Department Headquarters at 5 Cumberland Hill Road, Mikayla Bond, 11, sported a sign reading simply, "Save the cross." She was there with her sister, Cheyenne, 14, and their friend Savannah Russ, 13. MIkayla and Cheyenne's mom, Lois Bond, spoke for all four against the FFRF's call to remove the cross. "I think enough's enough," she said.
Nearby, Ray Paquet stood with a tall wooden cross with "God Bless America" printed across its horizontal timber.
Members of several veterans groups, including the RI chapters of the US Vets, Combat Vets and Disabled Veterans talked together, some standing, some seated in folding chairs. Tom Poole, who started a vigil at the site with a friend last Tuesday, was also with them.
One of them, Robert Lovell, a retired Providence policeman, Vietnam Veteran and a member of the RI chapter of the Combat Vets, said the FFRF was fighting the wrong fight. "It's just a symbol, same as at Arlington," he said, and shouldn't be the FFRF's concern.
Sami Wellington, a student at Mount St. Charles, spoke at the rally in support of keeping the Jolicoeur Place Memorial on Cumberland Hill Road intact at the invitation of master of ceremonies John DePetro of WPRO.
"I'm a seventh grader," Sami said, "I don't understand all the fancy terms, conversation and controversy over this monument, but I understand right from wrong. I believe this monument is a symbol of hope and pride and remembrance of our heroes, the kind of heroes I had a chance to meet in the past few months. And I'm kind of disappointed that an adult can overlook that this monument is for the soldiers who fought for our country and only see a cross."
Al Palazzo of West Warwick, a US Navy Veteran, sported a white flag with a canon in the center under a single black star. The words across the bottom: "Come and take it." Palazzo said the flag, a Gonzales Flag, was appropriate for the situation.