Dee DeQuattro is the director of development and legal services for Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, a nonprofit dedicated to helping military veterans through various services, such as human needs, education and housing. DeQuattro also is the founder of the Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial, which honors United States solders who died while serving post-9/11. This year, after having the memorial at Roger Williams State Park in Providence the since 2016, the memorial, consisting of close to 7,000 boots, will be on display at Fort Adams State Park in Newport from Friday, May 24, through Monday, May 27.
DeQuattro spoke with PBN about the memorial and its new venue this year.
PBN: What was the initial thought to create this memorial four years ago?
DEQUATTRO: The idea was so that the people who served could visit their friends on Memorial Day who may be buried elsewhere in the country… in different veterans cemeteries. So, on Memorial Day, they don’t have the opportunity to visit their friends and honor them. So, I thought this would be an opportunity for people to honor their friends in a way that we can have it here in Rhode Island. That’s why every boot has a name and a story with it, so they can find their specific friends who are fallen and visit them. That’s what it has become.
PBN: What prompted to wanting to change the memorial’s venue this year?
DEQUATTRO: At Roger Williams Park, [the memorial] has become a science. But traveling it to Newport, it’s a little logistically heavy. So, we’re trying to test ourselves to see if we can make [the idea of bringing it to a new location] happen and how much we have to tailor our usual routine to bring it to a new location. Also… bringing it to Newport brings us to a whole new population and to a whole new transient population. Newport, in the summertime, has a lot of tourists and a lot of people. So, that gets us more exposure from people all over. Plus, [Fort Adams] is one of the oldest military forts in the country, so what is more appropriate than having Boots on the Ground for Heroes here.
PBN: Was Fort Adams your first choice to have the memorial there this year?
DEQUATTRO: The fort reached out to us and said they wanted to do something with Operation Stand Down. I floated the idea of having the Boots on the Ground for Heroes memorial there, and they bought in hook, line and sinker. [Fort Adams] has been tremendously supportive. They helped us get the word out to the public and have been wonderful.
PBN: Is it the plan to have the memorial travel to different locations each year? Maybe travel outside Rhode Island?
DEQUATTRO: We’re always going to have the Boots on the Ground for Heroes memorial in Rhode Island on Memorial Day weekend. That’s a promise we made to the community and the organization when we started it. Eventually, the idea would be to get the boots into different states during different parts of the year – Veterans Day and other dates. We might do Fort Adams again next year or possibly in a new location, depending on how things go this year and making a decision based on that. It’s kind of hard to try and find a space big enough to hold it.
PBN: What should visitors take away in viewing the memorial when they see it?
DEQUATTRO: It’s a stark reminder of why we actually have Memorial Day. A lot of people forget that Memorial Day is to honor those who gave their lives in service to our nation. It’s a stark reminder that the cost of freedom is real and how big that cost is. Everyone knows that it’s the first weekend of summer and we’re going to the beach and having a barbecue. That’s great, but this reminds you that… we’re able to do all of those things because these people died for our freedom. When people first come to see the memorial, it’s tremendously overwhelming. People ask a lot of questions when they come. When we explain that it’s for everyone who have given their lives for the nation post-9/11, it reminds them that we’re a nation at war and brings their focus back to that.
James Bessette is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Research@PBN.com.