'Graniteville boys' remember fallen brothers

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Although Rhode Island is the only state in the nation to celebrate the occasion as a state holiday, under the name “Victory Day,” local veterans continue to commemorate what they remember as “V-J Day,” or “Victory over Japan.”

The Graniteville WWII Veterans Foundation will honor the occasion on Saturday, Aug. 15, at 11:30 a.m. at the site of the Graniteville Monument, Putnam Pike.

The public is invited to attend.

Helping to organize is Laura Charnley Panicucci, chairperson of the board of trustees. She is the niece of World War II veteran Ralph Charnley and one of several family members to take up where the veterans left off. The ever-dwindling number of World War II veterans, nationwide, as well as locally, necessitated that others be charged with continuing the foundation.

Veteran Angelo Casale, now a resident of North Scituate, had attended a reunion of the Graniteville School in 1995. In talking with other alumni, he and Sylvia Forrest started a search for all the known veterans from the village.

“We searched for all the veterans, they were all over the country,” Casale explained.

The foundation was formed in 1996. It was around that time members created a monument, adding to the existing honor roll monument in Graniteville, listing all those who served during WWII. A walkway and flagpoles were added. The town maintains the property, and members of Graniteville Baptist Church have continued to participate in annual ceremonies.

For these veterans, the memories are still as clear as if it happened yesterday.

“I was a flight engineer and a relief co-pilot,” said Casale, who helped organize the event. “I left high school at age 17 in 1944, later than some of the others.”

In 1943, Anthony Vacca, now a resident of Smithfield, was in his second year at Providence College when he enlisted as an apprentice seaman in the Navy. After basic training he was shipped to Pearl Harbor. He and his unit would return home with the Asian-Pacific Campaign Medal with a Bronze Star for the Marianas campaign, following the capture of the island of Tinian, a Japanese lookout post with four airstrips.

Harold Nicholson, a veteran who also resides in Smithfield, was stationed at Pearl Harbor on “D-Day,” in 1941. He was shooting pool with Providence native Bill Davey in the day room of the enlisted men’s barracks at Hickham Field when bombs started dropping.

He was lucky to survive that day and return to tell the story.

He served in the Pacific until 1943 when he returned to the states as a machine gun instructor at Alexandria Air Base in Louisiana. After the war he married his grammar school sweetheart, Muriel Sweet of Centredale, who died in 1982. They had two daughters.

William Northup, Jr., a resident of Pine Hill Avenue, attended the Graniteville School and had completed his junior year when he was sworn into active duty in July of 1942. He and close friend Fred Gaunt reported to the Newport Naval Base for training. Today the duo remain close and are both loyal members of the Graniteville WWII Veterans Association.

Before he was placed on inactive duty in 1945, Northup would travel the world aboard a Navy battleship from Australia and New Guinea to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Ribbon with 18 Bronze Stars, the Philippine Liberation with two stars, the American Theater, Good Conduct and Occupation Medal.

He is also a “shellback,” crossing the equator many times at the 180th meridian, polar circle.

Another annual visitor to the monument is WWII veteran fighter pilot George Sutcliffe. Profiled on a History Channel special on Dogfights in 2007, he flew 80 missions and was nearly shot down over Omaha Beach in 1944. Sutcliffe received the Silver Star for "gallantry in action," the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 12 clusters. He’s been inducted into the R.I. Heritage Hall of Fame, the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame and the Smithfield Heritage Hall of Fame.

Back in Graniteville, Bob Jackson and the late Del Riley created a newsletter called “Hot Sketches,” which they sent to those serving their country. Featuring news from home and from others serving, the newsletters were later published in book form by Casale, Northup and Sylvia Forrest, wife of veteran Fred Forrest.

Only 200 were printed, though a copy of “Graniteville Went to War,” is available at the Mohr Library.

Jackson, proprietor of W. E. Jackson Co., a printing company on Putnam Pike, attends the VJ Day gatherings.

“We received more medals and citations for the size of the village, than any other town its size in the United States,” said Casale. “It made us feel like brothers, it made us feel like we weren’t alone. Every Graniteville guy knew where the other guys were.”

His daughter, Karen Lee Casale, is now one of the trustees of the foundation, along with Donald Catley and Glen Schneider; Marie Carlino is secretary, Laura Charnley Panicucci, is chair.

Thanks to their dedication, the event will begin with a greeting by WWII veteran Ralph Charnley, followed by an invocation by Rev. Rebecca Law of the Graniteville Baptist Church. After guest speaker Donald Catley, there will be a reading of the names of the Graniteville WWII Veterans who were killed in action. Veterans Bill Northup and Angelo Casale will place the memorial wreath on the monument and the event will wrap up with a prayer, the firing of arms and the playing of "Taps."

Foundation members are also invited to a reunion buffet luncheon at 1 p.m. at the Greenville Inn, located at 36 Smith Avenue in Smithfield. The cost of the luncheon is $18. Respond by mailing check by Aug. 1, to Laura Charnley Panicucci, chairperson of the board of trustees, 1 Plantation Drive, Cumberland, RI, 02864.

With age and the passage of time, the group’s numbers continue to dwindle but the foundation continues in the hands of family members. The veterans, now all in their eighties, continue to meet at the monument and share their stories.

“There are 182 names on the monument – there’s only 14 of us left,” Casale said.

The members of the foundation that will continue to commemorate “V-J Day,” to honor those from Graniteville who made the ultimate sacrifice in WWII are Ralph Bridges, John K. Burrows, Walter Charbonneau, Alfred A. Chartier, Raymond Draper, George Harrington, Jr., Raymond J. Herther, William Hickey, James Paterson, Joseph Roy Searle and William Thorpe, Jr.

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