Memorial Day is more than just a holiday that unofficially marks the beginning of summer. There is a deep meaning to this day, which became an official holiday in 1971, though its origins date back to the Civil War, and it is a holiday that is for mourning and reflecting, not celebrating. Memorial Day exists to remember those who died while serving in America’s armed forces. Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial, which takes place Memorial Day Week at Roger Williams Park Temple to Music, is a unique way Rhode Island pays tribute to those fallen soldiers.
Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial honors all US service members who have been killed in action since 9/11 by displaying boots adorned with American flags and placards. There are approximately 7,000 boots, with the number unfortunately growing with each year. The memorial is the brainchild of Dee DeQuattro, a member of RI National Guard and director of communications and development for Operation Stand Down, a Rhode Island organization that provides services for homeless and at-risk veterans.
“I was inspired by my husband, Dave, who served three deployments and lost 28 of his fellow marines,” DeQuattro says. “I wanted to give him and people like him an outlet to see their fallen battle buddies on Memorial Day.”
The Memorial has grown since its inception in 2016, both in numbers and stature. Word (both local and national) has gotten out, which has led to more promotion, sponsors, volunteers and programming. This year will have food trucks at the carousel on Friday and Sunday. Sunday also features a Patriotic Concert by the Governor’s RI National Guard 88th Army Band at 6pm and a patriotic laser light show at 8:30pm.
Many people have gone to visit the Memorial for various reasons. DeQuattro has observed a variety of responses from visitors, ranging from sadness for those who died, pride for our country and solemnity in honor of the fallen.
“Many veterans come to visit their fallen battle buddies,” DeQuattro says. “It really does have a different effect on different people, but it does serve as a stark reminder to everyone about the true cost of freedom.”
Louis Araujo, who spent a total of 17 years in the National Guard (rejoining after 9/11 for three years), makes sure to visit the Memorial each year.
“Boots on the Ground touches me at my core,” he says proudly. “It allows me to pay homage to my brothers and sisters who didn’t come home. More importantly, it reinforces to me that their sacrifice is appreciated.”
DeQuattro hopes that visitors take the time to truly reflect on what they’re seeing. Each boot represents the lost life of a solider, which makes for a powerful and humbling experience. She hopes to eventually get the Memorial to travel to other states, with the caveat that it always stays in Rhode Island for Memorial Day.
“I hope that it is educational and reminds people that Memorial Day is not a happy holiday,” she says while on break from RI National Guard training. “Instead, it is a time to reflect and honor those killed in service of our nation. It’s a day that we remember our heroes, their sacrifice and their families for whom every day is Memorial Day.”
“I always cry,” Araujo adds solemnly.
Boots on the Ground for Heroes takes place Memorial Day Weekend (Friday, May 25 – Monday, May 28) at Roger Williams Park Temple to Music. Food trucks will be present on Friday and Sunday. The 88th Army Band will perform on Sunday at 6pm, followed by a patriotic light show at 8:30pm. All events are free and appropriate for all ages. Call 401-383-4730 for more information or visit osdri.org