100 years later, signs honoring WWI vets restored

100 years later, signs honoring WWI vets restored

1st Lt. Harold F. Flynn, who was killed in action on Nov. 9, 1918, is one of 11 Woonsocket residents who died during World War I and will be honored with new signs at city squares and Dunn Park this month.

WOONSOCKET – A four-year effort to achieve recognition for residents of Woonsocket who died in World War I is drawing to a close, with an unveiling of new signs rededicating 10 city squares planned for Veterans Day this Sunday, Nov. 11.

The squares were first dedicated on July 4, 1921, when a ceremony involving much pomp and circumstance paraded through the city renaming them in honor of 10 city residents who had died of disease or in combat during World War I. An 11th space, Dunn Park, was renamed in 1936 in honor of Edna Dunn, a Navy yeowoman and Fairmount resident who died of influenza at the Newport Naval Base shortly after the end of the war.

Now, 100 years later, few residents are aware of the city’s contribution to the first World War, and most of the officially dedicated names of public spaces, with the exception of Dunn Park, have been forgotten over time.

Four years ago, Roger Beaudry, treasurer of the American French Genealogical Society, set out to change that, beginning a lengthy research process on the 78 men and women from Woonsocket who died during World War I. His research took him to Woonsocket Harris Public Library, where microfilm copies of The Call recorded the names of the local residents who fought overseas, some of whose bodies were shipped back to their families for burial in local cemeteries after the war.

Those names include Lt. Harold Flynn, who died on Nov. 9, 1918 – two days before the end of the war – and was buried in France after he was fired upon by an enemy airplane.

They also include two brothers, Elie and Come Duhamel, who joined up to fight together and are buried side-by-side in Arlington National Cemetery.

In addition to Dunn, the ranks of female service members include Constance Martin, a nurse who died on Sept. 17, 1918, of influenza at the Chelsea Naval Hospital.

Beaudry keeps information on all 78 deceased service members at the AFGS library, a project he said was inspired by his own family members who fought in World War I. Three of his great-uncles and his wife’s grandfather all fought overseas, sparking an interest in their biographies and genealogy.

“It dawned on me that there’s nobody alive who remembers World War I,” he said. “I figured they should get some kind of recognition.”

Beaudry estimates between 2,500 and 2,800 Woonsocket residents fought in World War I, many of them for foreign armies, including France, Belgium, England and Canada. While the bodies of many of those who fought in foreign armies were never returned to their families, Beaudry said records of their service are sometimes easier to find than American service records due to a 1973 fire that wiped out many of the military records stored at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

“They were all city residents, some were killed in action, some died of disease,” he said of the 78 individuals.

On Sunday, the city will unveil 11 new signs at the city squares and Dunn Park bearing the names and dates of death of their namesakes. The signs were presented by the AFGS to the city during a ceremony commemorating the centennial of World War I last year. Last month, the United Veterans Council also contributed to the project, presenting Beaudry with a $1,163 check to fund posts and mounting brackets for the signs.

The full list of squares to be rededicated and their official names are as follows:

Private Andrew F. Young Memorial Square at the intersection of Main, Arnold, Bernon and South Main streets, formerly known as Market Square.

Private Joseph O. Normandin Memorial Square at the intersection of Front and Court streets, formerly known as Court Square.

Private Arthur Curtis Memorial Square at the intersection of Blackstone Street and Harris Avenue, formerly known as Randall Square.

Private Joseph R. Coutu Memorial Square, at the intersection of Greene and Bernon streets.

1st Lt Harold F. Flynn Memorial Square at the intersection of Court, High, Main and Clinton streets, formerly known as Depot Square.

Private Alberic C. Riendeau Memorial Square at the intersection of Providence Street and Smithfield Road, formerly known as Union Square.

Private Giovanni Filice Memorial Square at the intersection of Social Street and Diamond Hill Road.

Private William Jolicoeur Memorial Square at the intersection of Hamlet Avenue, Cumberland Street and Cumberland Hill Road.

Corporal Lionel O. Roberge Memorial Square at the intersection of Knight, Cottage and Logee streets.

Private Donatien Belhumeur Memorial Square at the intersection of Social and Rathbun streets, formerly Social Corner.