Elks invite generations of military veterans to annual dinner

By Kendra Gravelle

Veterans and their family members packed the grand meeting room of the Smithfield Elks Lodge on the Sunday before Veteran’s Day.

Veterans of several wars — from World War II to Korea to the Vietnam War to the War in Afghanistan and in Iraq — mingled as they enjoyed a turkey dinner to the the big-band sound of the 88th Army Band.

Residents of the Rhode Island Veterans Home were the guests of honor, with around 30 of them in attendance. At the end of the dinner the Smithfield Elks’ Veterans Committee would present a check in the amount of $3,000 to its special guests.

The Smithfield Elks Lodge has been hosting the annual veterans dinner for around 42 years, explained Barry Collins, member of the Elks Lodge.

“The Lodge touts itself as being concerned about the veterans,” Collins said. “One of the mottos is ‘Where there’s a veteran, they’re never forgotten by the Elks.’ We’re always attempting to make life easier for the veterans.”

James St. Angelo, a veteran of World War II and resident of the Rhode Island Veterans Home, had a difficult time putting into words the importance of Veterans Day.

“I spent 30 years in the Navy,” said St. Angelo, who worked as an educational services officer for 17 years at Naval Station Newport following his career in the Navy. “What can I say? I just want to thank [the Elks Lodge] for helping us celebrate and allowing us to come here for this special day.”

John Serapiglia, a veteran of the Korean War, and Skip Sweeney, a veteran of the Vietnam War, both of Balfour-Cole Post, 64, American Legion, Smithfield, sat together as they enjoyed good conversation and stuffed turkey, each with American flags incorporated in his finery.

“This is a day to honor those who served,” said Sweeney, a Smithfield resident, “and to celebrate the freedoms that we have.”

Bob Carlson, a submarine veteran from Smithfield, echoed that sentiment.

“And it’s especially to honor those fighting the war overseas now,” he added.

For John Gallo, who joined the armed forces in 1956, retired in 1998 and fought in a list of wars including the Gulf War and the Bosnian War, the veteran’s dinner was just one event among many last month honoring those who have served. As chairman of the United Veterans Council of Rhode Island, member of the Veterans Affairs Committee and member of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Gallo wears many hats within the Veterans organizations in Rhode Island.

“I finally had to give up my [computer consulting] business because it was taking too much away from my Veterans work,” Gallo laughed, “and being here today is great.”

James D’Agostino, a retired member of the Rhode Island National Guard, summed up the event as being a great way to celebrate Veterans Day — the most important day of the year.

“Most people look upon Old Glory as the symbol of the nation — a lovely banner that flies proudly,” he said. “But they don’t realize that the color red represents, not just a pretty tone to go with the white and the blue, but the color red symbolizes the blood spilled by hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women who have served this country from the Revolutionary War to today’s actions in many parts of the world.

“An American serviceman or woman is the mainstay of the great United States of America.”