CUMBERLAND — When Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Josh Lemois told his father he was giving up a chance to become a local policeman to go to Afghanistan, Bruce Lemois thought he understood.
He had to go.
Why else would Josh turn his back on his dream job?
“He wants to be a Cumberland police officer,” said Lemois, a member of the Cumberland Town Council. “Not a Warwick police officer. Not Providence. He wants to be a member of his hometown police department.”
But there was something Josh hadn’t told his father. The Guard wasn’t forcing him to embark on what would be his second overseas deployment since 9/11.
Josh Lemois, 28, was going because he wanted to.
Councilor Lemois was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s Veterans Day ceremonies. When asked how he felt about his son’s voluntary deployment, however, Lemois, standing beside his wife, Maria, just choked back tears of pride.
In a highlight of the annual celebration, the Cumberland Veterans Council, its chief sponsor, honored the younger Lemois with a framed certificate commemorating his commitment to duty.
Later, the tech sergeant said he still hopes to land a job with the local police department someday — just not now. He says his security unit in Afghanistan needs him more than the police force.
“I didn’t want to lose that connection and jeopardize what they’re trying to accomplish over there,” he said. “That connection is very important because it keeps up the morale. Keeping that going is the biggest thing.”
Lemois, who served abroad in 2008, says he expects to ship out in January and could spend a year in Afghanistan before the new tour is over.
Some 200 people — one of the largest crowds in memory — turned out for the Veterans Day affair, filled with prayer, music and patriotic words. The event was held on the picturesque grounds of the Monastery, believed to be the oldest veterans memorial in the nation, according to Maj. Jason Dean, commander of the headquarters detachment for the National Guard.
In 1676, he said, during the colonial conflict with Native Americans known as King Philip’s War, nine Plymouth Colony troops were killed no more than “a few hundred yards” from the lectern from which he was speaking. The soldiers were buried on the site, their bodies marked with stones piled atop their graves by English soldiers, creating a monument known as Nine Men’s Misery.
It was a bellwether sacrifice in the annals of military history, said Dean, for generation upon generation of American soldiers would die in future battles to protect freedoms that are too often taken for granted.
“This is THE day we set aside in order to be mindful of the brave men and women of this young nation — generations of them — who above all else believe in and fought for a set of ideals, said Dean. “For it is on their shoulders, and owing to their courage and sacrifice, that we can all enjoy the fruits of freedom. In a very real way, they have paid the bill for the way of life we enjoy.”
Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the union, but it’s doing its share to shore up the war effort, said Dean, a local resident and son of former Cumberland policeman John Dean.
The state has racked up the second-highest per-capita rate of deployment among 54 states and territories since 9/11 — more than 5,400 individual deployments, said Dean.
More are on the way. Dean said 300 National Guardsmen are currently preparing to deploy to Kuwait, where they will assume security operations for convoys en route to Iraq. And within the next six months, an additional 500 Army and Air National Guardsmen from Rhode Island will deploy to Afghanistan to carry out security, detainee management and air evacuation missions.
Words hardly measure up to the magnitude of the sacrifice veterans make in service to their nation, a shortcoming which tradition recognizes at Veterans Day tributes everywhere with a moment of silence.
“Ironically,” said Dean. “our world is neither silent nor peaceful. Our world struggles with war, strife, injustice, hunger, disease and destruction.”
With tragic predictability, the sacrifice of the veteran is often the ultimate one, said Dean. The post 9/11 wave of deployments has cost the lives of 23 servicemen from Rhode Island — most recently that of Army Sgt. Michael F. Paranzino of Middletown, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan, a few days ago.
In a tribute to Paranzino and other fallen veterans, his death was marked by a volley of gunfire mid-way through the ceremony. Paranzino, who is to be buried Monday, was just 22 years old. He leaves behind a wife and two small children.
The list of speakers for yesterday’s ceremonies also included Richard W. Schatz, president of the Cumberland Veterans Council; Michael Richards, commander of American Legion Post 14; Shirley Vacher, president of the Women’s Auxiliary of Post 14; and Cumberland Police Sgt. Douglas Ciullo, a veteran of Iraq.
Ciullo recalled that he was part of an Army task force in charge of hunting down 50 of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s most notorious henchmen, including Tariq Aziz. Ciullo noted with some satisfaction that Aziz had been put to death after his conviction on war crimes recently.
Ciullo said the execution reassured him that the time he spent in Iraq served “a noble purpose” and that others are carrying on the work he left behind.