'A great American hero'

Warwick Memorial VFW Post 272 rededicated in honor of Cranston's DeCiccio

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 9/15/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE It was a "beautiful American day," in the words of U.S. Army veteran Kevin Brown - bright and clear, breezy but comfortable, with flags waving lightly and neighbors joined together for a shared purpose both solemn and celebratory.

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'A great American hero'

Warwick Memorial VFW Post 272 rededicated in honor of Cranston's DeCiccio

Posted

It was a “beautiful American day,” in the words of U.S. Army veteran Kevin Brown – bright and clear, breezy but comfortable, with flags waving lightly and neighbors joined together for a shared purpose both solemn and celebratory.

Against that backdrop, and on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Warwick Memorial VFW Post 272 in Warwick’s Conimicut Village was formally rededicated in honor of the late Sgt. Adam S. DeCiccio, a Cranston native who volunteered to serve his country in battle and later dedicated his life to helping others who have worn the nation’s uniform.

“Sgt. Adam DeCiccio was the definition of a hero,” Gov. Dan McKee said during the rededication ceremony. “Rhode Island and the United States are better places because of him. The impact that he had in his 37 years will last for generations, beyond the walls of this post and into our communities.”

DeCiccio, who passed away in December 2020 at age 37, joined the Army after graduating from Cranston High School West in 2001. He began basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia just four days before 9/11.

“That day changed all of our lives, and especially Adam’s,” Alex DeCiccio, one of Adam’s brothers, said during the weekend’s ceremony. “He was 17 … and then went directly to the front lines of war.”

DeCiccio served in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003-04, then reenlisted for Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2005-06. He received numerous medals and citations over his six years of service before being honorably discharged.

A biography penned by DeCiccio’s fiancée, Tayla Inderlin, and read by his brother Alex during the ceremony tells how DeCiccio “struggled in his transition back to civilian life, the repercussions of sending a teenager to war.”

As Raymond Denisewich, a retired colonel, the post’s quartermaster and a state officer for the VFW, put it: “Adam survived two wars, but unfortunately did not survive the effects of those two wars.”

But as speaker after speaker made note, DeCiccio found purpose in his post-military life through helping others.

After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in 2012, he found work at the nonprofit group Veterans Inc., where he connected veterans with housing and employment opportunities.

Then, DeCiccio became a nationally accredited service officer through the VFW and its Rhode Island chapter, a role in which he continued to help veterans obtain post-service benefits and actively participated in various post activities, such as Thanksgiving turkey drives.

In 2019, DeCiccio received a master’s degree in clinical mental health and rehabilitation counseling from Salve Regina University. He was chosen as the keynote speaker for the graduate commencement ceremony.

“His passion for serving his fellow veterans in any capacity was so clear,” Dr. Judith Drew, DeCiccio’s teacher at the university, told the gathered audience. Counseling, she said, represented an important next step for DeCiccio, a chance to come full-circle in his own journey while making a positive difference in the lives of others.

His advanced degree brought him to the Providence VA Medical Center, where he served as a research health science specialist – a role in which he contributed to research non-medicated therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Mike Figlioli, deputy director of the VFW’s National Veterans Service, said during the ceremony that by his count based on existing documentation, DeCiccio had helped more than 200 veterans during the course of his post-service career. He added, however, that the true figure was almost certainly much higher, including many veterans who DeCiccio assisted in other ways and through less formal channels.

During an emotional reading of his brother’s biography, Alex DeCiccio said Adam was a “leader.”

“He guided men safely through some of worst situations imaginable with confidence, poise and composure,” he said. “He dedicated his post-military life to other veterans, and he did so with enthusiasm and honor … When a fellow veteran needed help, he did not hesitate. Never. Even if that meant driving to New Jersey in the middle of the night to help a suicidal veteran, or searching for a veteran living in the woods to help him receive medical care. His countless selfless acts of kindness to his fellow veterans were the foundation of his character and how he chose to live his life of service. His deeds always spoke abundantly louder than his words. Deeds, not words.”

That motto, “deeds, not words,” has become synonymous with DeCeccio among his loved ones, comrades and friends. It is also the motto of the unit in which he served – the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division, known widely as the “Triple Deuce,” as many speakers noted.

Brown, a retired colonel who served as DeCiccio’s commanding officer, shared humorous memories from his time spent with DeCiccio in the service and later as civilian colleagues.

Drawing smiles and laughter from many in the crowd, Brown recalled his initial impressions of DeCiccio as “confident and impetuous,” “gregarious and irreverent.”

“Said simply, he was a little loud, a little cocky, and not the least bit shy … We’ll never forget him,” he said.

Brown also provided a history of the VFW organization, and read a military order from 1900 that honored a member of the 22nd Infantry who died while serving in the Philippines. It was from that document that “deeds, not words” was first gleaned, he said, in this line specifically: “Deeds, silent symbols more potent than words, proclaimed this soldier’s worth.”

“We all know Adam’s worth,” he added. “It was in his deeds. It was in his heart and it was in his soul.”

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, an Army veteran who also joined the military at age 17, recalled meeting DeCiccio on Thanksgiving 2003 during a congressional trip to Afghanistan.

“It wasn’t a discussion between a U.S. senator and a young soldier,” Reed said. “We were just two kids from Cranston … We had a great time.”

He added: “I’m not surprised – because I was proud of him then, and I’m very proud of him now – that he carried on, in the motto of the 22nd, the Triple Deuce, ‘Deeds, not words.’ He found his calling in helping other people … He was a leader, a doer, a man who let his deeds speak louder than his words.”

Reed and McKee were just two of the many elected officials on hand for the weekend’s gathering.

All four members of the congressional delegation – Reed, along with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline – addressed the proceedings. So, too, did all five of the state’s general officers – McKee, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Attorney General Peter Neronha.

Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, both of Warwick represented their respective chambers. Several House members, including Cranston’s Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung and Brandon Potter, Warwick’s David Bennett, Camile Vella-Wilkinson and Joseph Solomon, and Westerly’s Samuel Azzinaro were also on hand.

After a brief introduction from Shekarchi and Vella-Wilkinson – who is a retired Navy officer – the lawmakers jointly presented Post 272 with a $15,000 check to help finance renovations at the newly rededicated building.

“Adam was the embodiment of service above self and actions above words,” Vella-Wilkinson told the audience.

Several of the dignitaries called for the dedication of the VFW Post to serve as a new catalyst for addressing the needs of the nation’s veterans, particularly those of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“[DeCiccio’s] life is a reminder that the war often doesn’t end for veterans when they come home, and it’s why our commitment to veterans needs to be forever,” Whitehouse said.

“I can think of no better way to remember Adam and to honor his lifetime of service than to give his name to a place of community and camaraderie for veterans,” said Langevin, who knew DeCiccio through the latter’s service on the congressman’s veterans advisory committee.

DeCiccio’s mother, Dawn; son, 10-year-old Gunner; and other brother, Mark, were among the family members in attendance for the dedication ceremony.

Gunner drew particular attention and accolades from many of the day’s speakers. He presented the American flag at the outset of the program and led those gathered in the Pledge of Allegiance. He was called on to receive several of the citations presented by elected officials, including Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi, who was joined by Warwick City Councilman Tim Howe – an Army veteran – and Council President Steve McAllister.

“Gunner, I hope you know all these people are here because your father was a great American hero,” Cicilline told DeCiccio’s son at one point during the ceremony.

Howe additionally invited Gunner to present a proclamation from the Warwick City Council to the newly dedicated Sgt. Adam S. DeCiccio Warwick Memorial VFW Post 272.

Gen. Christopher Callahan, commander of the Rhode Island National Guard, and Kasim Yarn, the state’s veterans affairs director, both spoke during the event. Members of the United States Veterans Motorcycle Club were also on hand, with chapters from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire represented.

Father Robert Marciano delivered the invocation and benediction. The Bishop Hendricken High School Choir performed the national anthem.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, members of DeCiccio’s family helped unveil two new signs – one on the side of the post, the other on one of the building’s windows featuring an image of Adam.

The weekend’s ceremony was not the first time DeCiccio has been publicly honored in the months since his passing. A ceremony in his honor was held as part of a June boxing event at Cranston Stadium. And on the Fourth of July, a fireworks display put on at the Atwood Avenue field in Cranston by the nonprofit Cranston Cares, which he helped found, was dedicated to his memory.

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