EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — Amid the somber notes of Taps and the firing of rifles, Gold Star Families laid a wreath at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter on Monday.
The rainy ceremony honored the thousands of Rhode Island service members who have died, along with living veterans and active-duty service members. An American flag was placed on each one of the 24,000 graves at the cemetery.
Ron Gill from Cranston lost his son, PS3 Ron Gill Junior, on March 24, 2007. He was serving in the Coast Guard in Seattle when he was killed.
“The longer they’re gone, the harder it is,” Gill said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “We would much rather not be at these ceremonies. We’d much rather have our children back. But we’re glad that they’re recognized and honored for their sacrifice.”
Gill said his son’s daughter Gracie, who also attended Monday’s ceremony, was born six months after he died.
“That’s the greatest tragedy, they they never got to meet,” Gill said. “Besides losing him…she never got to meet her dad.”
Gill’s family was one of several Gold Star Families who attended the Memorial Day service, attended by Gov. Gina Raimondo and other dignitaries including Veterans Affairs Director Kasim Yarn and Retired Admiral James Kelly from the U.S. Naval War College.
“In my family, Memorial Day was always about gratitude,” Gov. Raimondo told the crowd. “It wasn’t really that much about hot dogs and hamburgers and BBQ.”
The at-times pouring rain did not stop people from visiting graves in the vast cemetery on Monday. Doug Williams of Coventry stopped by to enjoy a cigar with his dad, Capt. C. Roger Williams (the name is not a coincidence–the family descends from Rhode Island’s founder.) Capt. Williams served in the Army Air Corps in World War Two and died in 2004.
“He stood by his comrades and he was a great American,” Williams said. “That’s why I come out here and show my respect.”
The ceremony served as a reminder that freedom is not free; many thousands of Rhode Islanders have fought to protect that ideal, including 29 who have died in the wars since 9/11.
Marine Sgt. Brian St. Germain from West Warwick was just 22 when he was killed in Iraq back in 2006. His mother, Lynn St. German-Lundh, has attended every single Memorial Day ceremony in Exeter ever since.
“I would wish with my whole heart that he was here with me,” St. Germain-Lundh said. She worked to get a new high school track dedicated in his honor last year.
“I knew him as a civilian…but his fellow Marines have shared with me what an amazing person he was and how he continued to put himself before others,” she said.