Honoring their sacrifice

After brief RI display, Boots on the Ground returns to Fort Adams this May

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Operation Stand Down Rhode Island’s Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial is making its full return to Fort Adams State Park in Newport this Memorial Day weekend.

The coronavirus pandemic forced OSDRI to suspend its usual display in favor of a downsized tribute to the 29 Rhode Islanders who have died fighting in the Global War on Terror since 9/11. OSDRI executive director Erik Wallen, development director Dee DeQuattro and Gold Star mom Lynn St. Germain each spoke during a video, filmed at Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, honoring those Rhode Islanders’ sacrifices. The annual tribute, which launched in 2016, moved from Roger Williams Park to Fort Adams in 2019.

While all 7,000 boots will be laid out at Fort Adams in 2021, Wallen said there will be a special display honoring the 29 Ocean State soldiers this morning at Warwick City Hall. He said the promotion is a “great way to bring attention” to the main event in May.

“It’s a way to give folks on the West Bay the opportunity to see the boots that represent the Rhode Islanders of the Global War on Terror, and encourage people to see the full display on Memorial Day,” Wallen said. “Warwick is obviously one of the oldest cities in the state, it’s got a magnificent Town Hall with a war memorial out in front, and we felt it would be a good central and accessible location for the boots in a city that has a great history.”

Wallen said Fort Adams is requiring that attendees wear masks when viewing the memorial, and he doesn’t expect any issues with crowd size. While thousands people visit the boots every year, Wallen said they usually don’t stay for longer than an hour and there shouldn’t be more than 100 people inside the fort at any given time.

Since it’s an enormous, open-air fort, social distancing shouldn’t be a problem either. He said folks “will feel safe to attend.”

“It’s a perfect outdoor event,” Wallen said. “The display itself is almost the entire size of a football field, it takes up a majority of the interior of Fort Adams, so as we kind of break out of this period of quarantine and folks kind of hunkering down in their homes with family, this is going to time well as Rhode Island opens up and we return to a sense of normalcy. It shouldn’t be lost on folks that we have a tremendous number of people who have made a great number of sacrifices for our freedom.”

Wallen said the veterans community is “thrilled” for the total return of Boots on the Ground. He said both Fort Adams and Department of Environmental Management staff were “very quick and very excited” to host the event once again.

“It was certainly a well attended event when we brought it to Newport in 2019,” Wallen said. “They had some of their record attendance levels. At Fort Adams, it represents an opportunity to open the event season in Newport with a very meaningful and profound display of patriotism in a historic fort.”

Wallen quoted DeQuattro, whom he said is on active duty with the U.S. Army in Germany right now, when he noted that Boots on the Ground is “a part of the fabric of Operation Stand Down.” Its return is a welcomed sight for a group composed of members who fought for the country.

“For an organization that is made up by majority of veterans – all those that we see are veterans – this is near and dear to all of our hearts,” Wallen said. “The memorial itself, the idea of it was developed by our development director Dee DeQuattro … The veteran community in Rhode Island is very much a family. Our Gold Star family members are folks we have come to know personally and for whom we have profound respect, and to one able to present this memorial on Memorial Day and provide this very visual display of this true sacrifice is profoundly moving.”

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