URI Hosts WWII Veterans at Roundtable Event

By Taylor Stickles

URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media’s public relations program helps students learn outside the classroom.

Regina Bell’s public relations class spent over a month working on a project with the World War II Foundation. Students collaborated with Tim Gray, documentary film director, producer, and writer for the Foundation, to develop a promotional campaign for his latest film “Journey Home to the USS Arizona.”

“Integrating a ‘hands-on project’ in a course is my preferred way to teach PR strategies,” Professor Bell said. “It doesn’t get any better than when you see an idea become a reality, particularly when the reality happened as a direct result of our students’ collaborative energies.”

In addition to developing a marketing campaign for the film, students helped Gray host a roundtable event with World War II veterans at URI’s Visitors Center. The event took place on November 8, just before Veteran’s Day, and drew a crowd of over 100 people.

The event began with a heartfelt address by President Dooley, whose father was a veteran. He, then, introduced the Director of Veterans Affairs for the State of Rhode Island, Kasim Yarn, who is also a veteran. Yarn spoke about his experience as a veteran and reminded URI to keep “thinking big” because URI students are the future.

The WWII Foundation brought five veterans to tell their stories and share their perspectives on the war during the round table discussion, “Let’s Talk: Millennials Meet World War II Veterans.” Leo Heroux, Armando Napoli, Richard Fazzio, Joseph Aquilante and Gene Peloquin, whose brother was lost in the war, each told their own personal stories about WWII.

Perhaps the most touching story was that of Leo Heroux. He described how he met his wife, the farmer’s daughter, at a farmhouse in France, as “love at first sight.” The two eventually married and raised two children in France near the very farmhouse where they first met. A wartime romance.

Leo was the first veteran to participate in Tim Gray’s program. He traveled to Normandy and was immediately sent back in time. He even visited the farm where he met his wife and noted that after all of these years, nothing had changed.

Armando Napoli told a different story – one of a 16-year-old desperate to help his country in the war. He hitchhiked all the way across the country and eventually convinced the Navy to let him enlist.

“I was scared…but I did it for my country and would do it again if I had to,” Napoli said.

Richard Fazzio helped students understand the reality of the war by talking about his hardships as a teenager during the Great Depression.

“I started selling newspapers at age 7 and worked ever since,” Fazzio said. “I always wanted to join the Navy and did at 17.”

Fazzio later shared, for the first time, a poem he wrote about the war. The room fell silent for one of many times throughout the day while he read his poem filled with personal experiences and raw emotion.

Students, faculty, and other guests had many questions for the veterans, who were happy to provide answers packed with personal narratives, memories, and a mix of sadness and optimism. When asked what millennials should take away from the day, the veterans gave their best advice.

“Always remember.”

“Do not forget what we fought for.”

“War is hell, pray for peace.”

“We did our job, now it is your turn to stop war.”