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St. Joseph’s & St. Patrick’s Day at the RI Veterans Home – John A. Cianci

Rhode Island Veterans Home residents and their families celebrated St. Joseph and St. Patrick Day on Saturday.

An unidentified veteran wearing a Korean War veteran hat and driving a scooter inside the galley stopped in front of one of the volunteers, Wendy Cianci, an Auxiliary Member of Italian American War Veterans of US, and asked who was responsible for putting this event on?

Wendy directed the veteran to a veteran in front of her who was wearing a red polo shirt and a blue hat. He immediately did a U-turn with his scooter and headed in the direction of the veteran wearing the blue hat. Stopping inches from the veteran, John A. Cianci, State of Rhode Commander of the Italian American War Veterans, the veteran in the scooter demanded John’s attention, “Did you put this event on?” John responded, “No, this event was coordinated by numerous organizations, War Veterans Car Tribute Cruise-In, Friends of the RI Veterans Home (Facebook group page), Veterans of Foreign War of Bristol, Vietnam Veterans of America of Warren, American Legion of Harrisville, Italian American War Veterans of East Bay, Irish American War Veterans, Auxiliary members and volunteers of those organizations, and the assistance of the staff of the Veterans home made this happen.”

With watery eyes, the veteran on the scooter told John, “Thank you and all who made this happen – it was a great time.”

The theme of the event was a festival celebrating Italian and Irish heritage, intertwined with many events scheduled last week in Rhode Island celebrating St. Patrick and St. Joseph Days.

Sadly, the majority of the veterans living at the home are unable to attend traditional events outside the veterans’ home. Without events scheduled for veterans’ homes and other nursing and assisting living centers, many can’t enjoy traditional days of celebrating like they had in the past for various reasons. The majority of the veterans would need assistance to get them to events most enjoyed in the past. Others have limited or no family who have the ability to provide the assistance required. For them, their family is the staff of the home and fellow veterans who share what they now call home.

“We wanted the veterans to recall many memories of their past and give them an event not only they would remember, but their family, “ said John.” Traditional events in Rhode Island are intertwined with cultural holidays and a variety of cultural food. And the most important part is spending time with family and friends.”

The veterans and their guests started arriving 30 minutes early. The early arrivals quickly learned and invoked “Pa’s Rules”. “Pa’s Rules” was explained to them by one of the veteran volunteers – desert first! Also called grandparents’ rules. The early arrivals had a selection of choices from the dessert menu to include mini-cannoli, egg and wine biscuits, Italian cookies, brownies, chocolate cake, ricotta pie, cupcakes, wine and egg biscuits, Hershey Chocolate cake, and bite sized cheesecakes, etc.

The Galley at the home was soon filled to its capacity with tables and chairs, however, the staff at the veterans’ home mitigated the shortage by bringing  in tables for every location throughout the home.

I dropped the ball by underestimating last minute veterans and guests who wanted to attend, and actually attended. Paul, the administrator at the home, had warned me about table shortages before the event, something we needed to mitigate as the home only had limited tables for the Galley.

“For sure I under-estimated the number of tables needed, but I didn’t under-estimate the amount of food required, to include delivering to those who attended and enough to send into the neighborhood sections of the home for those who could not attend in the Galley,” said John. 

“I also had the best food to close out any Rhode Island festival, an icon at any Rhode Island festival – the doughboy,” he said. 

John spearheaded the idea of the event and organized a committee of veterans and other organizations to execute the needed logistics to make it happen in the less than 45 days, and immediately after COVID restrictions were lifted. 

“Sadly, I remember one of the veterans from the home wanting me to organize a “We Got Your Six” car parade (https://rinewstoday.com/we-got-your-six-vehicle-parade-at-ri-veterans-home/) during COVID despite the opposition of such an event from the Office of Veterans Services at the State of Rhode Island” said John.

“I might not be alive by the time COVID restrictions are lifted,” the late John “Jack” Choquette told John in October 2021. Sadly, Jack passed away during COVID, however, one last time, Jack was able to enjoy one of his passions, classic cars, because the event happened at the Veterans home.

All hands-on deck and spoiling the veterans who were attending was the theme of the event coordinators. 

Soon after the early arrival the Galley filled with veterans and their families. 

The volunteers quickly dispatched to start serving the antipasto and appetizers at the tables.  

The appetizers included red and white pizza strips from DePretrillo’s Bakery in Chepachet, homemade Irish Guinness Stew made by the Italian American War Veterans of the US (not a typo, the Italians made the traditional Irish Stew),  mini-spinach pies and pizza chips from Delizioso Deli in Cranston. And traditional antipasto provided by Perella’s Ristorante in Warren. 

Antipasto by Perella Ristorante, Warren, RI

Following the appetizers were finger-roll sandwiches made up of sweet and hot Italian sausage, chorizo, and Irish banger sandwiches were prepared and delivered to the tables. The sandwiches were barbequed outside while the event was going on.

Included with the finger-roll sandwiches were a noticeable non-Italian Irish sandwich, Portuguese chorizo, peppers and onion sandwiches.

Why?

“During the War Car Cruise Tribute in September 2001, a few of the veteran home residents were disappointed we didn’t have chorizo on the grill”, said Joe Thompson, Committee Chairman of War Veterans Tribute Cruise In. ”We promised them the next event we would have chorizo”. 

“One of those veterans we promised came up to me and thanked me for keeping our promise,” said John, another committee member of the War Car Cruise Committee. 

“Joe Diniz, VFW and Bristol Veterans Council and I took charge of the barbeque immediately upon arrival. “ said Ray Trinque. American Legion Berad Desjarlais Post #88, Harrisville, RI. 

“Joe prepped the chorizo and fixed it at his brother’s diner in Bristol, RI,” said Ray, “which made it easier to produce the volume needed to meet the demands.” Over 200 finger-roll sandwiches were prepared and delivered to the veterans and their guests. 

During the event, one of the family members stopped Wendy and told her how she was so thrilled at the event; telling me how this one was the first event the residents have had of this kind since the start of COVID in 2020, and it was wonderful, thank you. 

“Pa’s Rule”, appetizers, and finger-roll sandwich complete it was time for the main course: 

Homemade meat and cheese lasagna, and spinach lasagna made by the Italian American War Veterans of US; homemade rigatoni and meatballs and veal-peas-rigatoni by Perella’s Ristorante in Warren, Shepherd’s Pie, Corn beef and cabbage Irish bangers and mashed potatoes.

After the main meal, the eating wasn’t over. It was dessert time. Cannolis, biscotti, cupcakes, homemade Italian cookies, egg and wine biscuits, chocolate cake, among some of the selections, were on the menu.

“It was a feast enjoyed by all, “ said Linda D’Andrea Peck, Burrillville Veteran Service Officer and member of American legion and Italian American war veterans, “Over 300 mini-cannoli were made—some on site, and not one was left”.

Tami Iavorone, Navy Veteran, Italian American War Veteran member and her granddaughter, Liliana, arrived early to decorate the Galley with artwork made by her classmates.

Many might recall Liliana’s connection to the veterans’ home – during COVID instead of birthday gifts and a party, she asked for donations for the Rhode Island Veterans Home.  https://www.wpri.com/news/street-stories/3rd-grader-gives-to-veterans-instead-of-receiving-birthday-party/.  Like last year, Lilliana would team up with her friend, Jamison, to deliver cards and food to her veterans; she refers to the veterans living at the home as hers. 

The event concluded with one last treat, doughboys made to order prepared by two veterans who served together in the 169th Military Police Company, Joe Diniz and Jay Caetano. They had not seen each other for years; both deployed a few times after serving together.

“I only volunteered a few days ago, had no idea I would meet up with someone I served with over 15 years ago,” said Jay. “Always a thrill to run into comrades I served with.”

The event concluded with no one leaving hungry.

“We have several more events scheduled, to include War Vet Car Cruise In on October 2, 2022, on the grounds of the Rhode Island Veterans Home,” said Joe, Committee Chairman, and one of the organizers and sponsor of the event on Saturday.

Veterans, family and friends of veterans at the Rhode Island Veterans Home can follow news and upcoming events on the Facebook group page, Friends of Rhode Island Veterans Home, https://www.facebook.com/groups/2597657593657545  or email Italian American War veterans of US to be added to the mailing list. 

In addition, upcoming veterans’ events are also posted and listed in RINEWSTODAY.com’s weekly column for veterans, published every Thursday.

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To read all columns in this series go to: https://rinewstoday.com/john-a-cianci/

John A. Cianci is a Veteran Service Officer. Retired, U.S. Army MSgt., Persian Gulf War and Iraq War combat theater.

Cianci, a combat disabled Veteran, served in Desert Shield/Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. His awards include Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge, Good Conduct, and others.

Cianci belongs to numerous veterans organizations – Italian American War Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign War, United Veterans Council of Rhode Island, and many more organizations. He is an active volunteer assisting veterans to navigate federal and state benefits they have earned. He is Department of Rhode Island Department Commander Italian American War Veterans and Veteran Service Officer.

He is a graduate of Roger Williams University (BS Finance), UCONN business school* (Entrepreneur Bootcamp For Veterans), Solar Energy International Residential, Commercial and Battery Based Photovoltaic Systems certificate programs, numerous certificates from the Department of Defense renewable energy programs, including graduate of the Solar Ready Vets Program.