WOONSOCKET — Students, parents, alumni and friends gathered at Mount St. Charles Academy on Tuesday, November 7, to honor the school’s veterans and active duty military members who have dedicated themselves to service to their country now and in the past.
The event took place in the school’s Veterans Hall, where more than 500 names of veteran alumni are displayed alongside plaques honoring the five branches of the military. According to school faculty and volunteers, research into veteran alumni is ongoing and about 200 names are scheduled to be added to the wall next year.
“There’s a closeness I think that we can all feel in this space,” President Alan Tenreiro told those gathered. “There’s a kinship in being an American.”
More than 20 veteran alumni representing various branches of the military were joined at the ceremony by current service members, among them alumni and parents. In the corner of the room, artifacts on display from the Veteran’s Memorial Museum in Woonsocket included a U.S. Army jacket that had belonged to 1947 graduate Normand St. Laurent and a photograph of Joseph Caron, a graduate who died when his plane was shot down over Belgium on June 6, 1944.
Students led those gathered in the national anthem, and the service continued with a formal honors ceremony. At the center of the room, a table set for six signified the American service men and women fallen or missing in action from each of the five branches, along with a place set for civilians. Students explained the symbolism of the items on the table and representatives of the five branches placed service covers on the empty places.
“We want our alumni veterans, our active service military people to know how much we thank them for their service and how much the Mount community is praying for them,” said Tenreiro.
Following the ceremony, alumni gathered for lunch in the school’s reception room, where many shared stories of military service. Michael Kociuba, a Woonsocket native, graduated in 1960 at the age of 17 and joined the Marine Corps shortly after. He was assigned to the 2nd Tanks Battalion and, in 1962, was part of the force prepared to invade Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis.
“We had our tanks on [the ship going] there, but we never made the landing because they called it off,” he recalled.
Kociuba retired from the Marine Corps after six years but later joined the Air National Guard and served for 22 years before retiring in 2002. He attended the ceremony with his brother, Carl, a 1968 graduate. Carl also joined the military, serving in the Army National Guard between 1972 and 1978, but neither brother was deployed to Vietnam.
“We were lucky,” said Michael. “I graduated with quite a few guys who didn’t make it back.”
One of those who didn’t make it back was Frederick Carter, a graduate of the class of 1964, who was represented at the ceremony by his mother, Helen Carter. Fred served in the U.S. Army and, according to official records, was killed in action in Vietnam on January 12, 1967.
“He was a very good son. He wasn’t the most troublesome one,” Mrs. Carter recalled with a smile, adding that he was the second-oldest of seven.
Carter was joined at the ceremony by her granddaughter, Major Charlene Marshall, a 1991 graduate who currently serves in the Rhode Island Air National Guard 143rd Airlift Wing. Though Marshall was the first in her family to join the U.S. Air Force, where she served six years of active duty prior to joining the National Guard, she was proud to follow in the military tradition of her uncle and all those who served before her in the armed forces. Her daughter, Michaela Young, has also continued that tradition, following in her mother’s footsteps to join the Air National Guard.
“It was an absolute honor to come back here and honor those who served before and after me,” said Marshall. “It’s really good to hear their stories.”