The Woonsocket Patch reported on the re-dedication of the Woonsocket Cross, officially called Place Jolicoeur, named in honor of WWI veteran William Jolicoeur who died during the war on October 3, 1921. The cross was recently restored to pristine condition by the Woonsocket War Memorial Committee, a partnership of private citizens and government officials who collected money for the effort after the Constitutionality of the cross was challenged by the Freedom from Religion Foundation ("FFRF").
According to the Woonsocket Patch:
Members of William Jolicoeur's family were present for the re-dedication, including 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.
"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 [Jolicoeur, nephew of William Jolicoeur] 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."
If William Jolicoeur's spirit did indeed witness the original dedication, he would have seen a simple ceremony featuring Grand Marshall Foch conducted on a plot of land located at an intersection. There was no cross on the spot until 1952, a cross dedicated not to Jolicoeur but to the Gagne Brothers, who all lost their lives in WWII.
Channel 12's Kathryn Sotnik was on hand and filed this report:
Dee DeQuattro at WPRO reported Mayor Leo Fontaine's statement regarding any potential future action by the FFRF:
"We may never hear from this group in Wisconsin again, but certainly if we do they will hear from us. We will stand firm and defend this monument at all costs and make sure that our heroes are recognized and protected."
The Woonsocket Cross may or may not be an unacceptable and un-Constitutional mixing of church and state, but one thing is for sure: because the FFRF has called attention to the issue, the City of Woonsocket has taken a long needed look at their history and their veterans, and have decided to re-embrace both. This is a very good thing.
But this new found appreciation should not obscure the fact that our country is founded upon important principles and values, including the First Amendment and the concept of separating Church and State. This is also a part of our history, and a concept all veterans fought for, and many died defending.