RI Vets treated to St. Patrick’s Day feast at Warwick K of C Hall

Posted 3/9/23

Ronald Pelletier sniffed the corned beef flavored air. He was thirsty.

A woman leaned over his left shoulder and asked, “You gonna have beer or wine today?”

“I’m gonna …

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RI Vets treated to St. Patrick’s Day feast at Warwick K of C Hall


Ronald Pelletier sniffed the corned beef flavored air. He was thirsty.

A woman leaned over his left shoulder and asked, “You gonna have beer or wine today?”

“I’m gonna have both,” declared Pelletier, 92, formerly of Providence, a retired Army veteran and ex-corporal — one of 47 residents of the Rhode Island Veterans Home (RIVH) in Bristol who were driven to the Warwick Avenue Knights of Columbus Hall for a St. Patrick’s Day boiled dinner and a drink last week.

In the Army, Pelletier packed the ammunition.

“We gave ‘em hell, the North Koreans,” Pelletier said while waiting for his beer and wine. “I handled the ordinance — the shells for the artillery. I had a good job.”

Robert Clark, 80, formerly of Johnston, sat to Pelletier’s left. His eyes were fixed on a pair of plates full of meat and cabbage floating toward the table, balanced on the palms of Mike Bromage Jr., President of the Knights of Columbus Council 2295.

“I’m really proud of all the comradery in this room,” Bromage said after leaving the plates in front of a pair of hungry former servicemen. He stepped into the hall for a second; the din of clinking glasses and knives hacking at slabs of corned beef was booming and getting louder. “These veterans are near and dear to our hearts.”

Staff from the home dodged corned beef and cabbage shrapnel to bring beverages to the men; dropping off Budweisers and pale white wines.

“They get excited for dinners like this,” said Tara Van Gyzen, supervising activities therapist at the RIVH. She rode with the veterans from Bristol, an epic excursion by Ocean State scale. “They absolutely love these outings.”

Bill Duba, 96, a former U.S. Army colonel, smiled from his wheelchair, soaking in the surrounding sounds of laughter, toasts and nostalgic conversation.

“I’m also having a beer and a wine,” Duba said. “I’m not driving. I’m just happy to be here. This whole group’s so happy to be here.”

Duba served in the Army for 31 years, through three major armed conflicts — World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

The Newport native belonged to his local Knights of Columbus Council. He said his years as a member were the best of his life, and he thanked the Warwick knights who cooked and served the boiled dinner.

Across the table sat fellow former Newport resident James Robinson, a 101-year-old ex-Navy sailor. He had already finished his first beer. He said he was ready for another.

Both he and Duba have lost their sight, so the feast of smells and sounds in the dining room were welcome quilts of comfort.

“I don’t even know what kind of vehicle brought me here,” Duba laughed (he arrived in a large white transport van). “It sounded like a freight train.”

A few seats away, Steve Schiffman, 77, an Army veteran and former Cranston resident, laughed and considered a refill.

Ernie Cafolla, 97, originally from Wakefield, served as am Army staff sergeant in World War II. He lifted his almost empty glass of wine and proposed a toast.

Caffola’s table-mates — Joe Mullen, 90, a Seekonk native and ex-Army first lieutenant; Donald LaBelle, 91, formerly of Charlestown, a former Air Force airman first class; and Ray Houle, 79, a Pawtucket native and retired Army E-5 — all lifted their bottles and goblets.

“Here’s to it and to it again,” Caffola announced. “If you don’t get to it, you may never get to do it again.”

His buddies laughed and clinked.

In the kitchen, a cadre of Knights carved massive slabs of corned beef and hunks of cabbage. They cooked for at least 50. Ray Lang, Kenny Caden, Eddie Strac, Bernie Lane, Gary Pelliccio and Mike Cronin formed a small assembly line, manufacturing boiled Irish offerings and shipping them promptly through the door and into the dining room.

A few Knights who also served in the military took seats in the hall and dined with the slightly elder veterans.

Frank DeLuca, 74, Frank Mitchell, 75, and David Bastien, 75, all of Warwick, each had a drink and a steaming plate. Deluca, a former first class rudderman, and Mitchell, a boatswain’s mate, both served in the U.S. Navy. Bastien was a Marine corporal.

They sat with Jerry Eastwood, 93, a Central Falls native and former Navy third class boatswain’s mate.

Barely any gap existed between the greatest generations gathered off Old Warwick Avenue last Thursday. All the men had so much in common. They had all served their country and now they were patiently living out their retirements.

Bromage said the event was partially sponsored by his father (also Mike) and his local retail insurance business, Cormack Routhier Agency, Inc.

“As Knights, our first thing is charity,” Bromage said, standing in the quiet hallway outside the humming St. Patrick’s Day celebration chaos. “We started figuring out ways we could give back. It started with this idea, of providing these men a holiday dinner.”

The Knights also host charity drives throughout the year and hang flags commemorating patriotic holidays.

“We had food and transportation for 50,” Bromage said. “At last count, there were 47 veterans here. If their diet allows, they can have a beer or a wine.”

Following the boiled dinner, the Knights served coffee and dessert.

The veterans all arrived thirsty and hungry and left quenched and full. They entered silent and lonely, but went home reinvigorated, super-charged.

“I think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced,” Duba said. “How wonderful.”

Knights, Pat's


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