The display, which also features identifying information and photos of each service member, will remain up through Memorial Day.

NEWPORT — Edna Conley and Elizabeth Gamble stood side-by-side looking over row upon row of meticulously placed boots on the ground inside Fort Adams. The small American flags accompanying each boot fluttered wildly in the gusty breeze Friday morning.

They were with a group from the Brentwood by the Bay assisted-living community in Warwick to visit the Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial that honors the roughly 7,000 U.S. service members killed in action since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“These veterans gave their lives and livelihoods so we have freedom today and can be in America with health and happiness for our families and ourselves,” Gamble said. “We didn’t do it. They did it.”

Many from their group have strong military ties. All three of Conley’s sons served in different branches of the armed forces, the Marines, Navy and Coast Guard. There were two veterans among them, Walter Lada, a retired Army sergeant, and Albert Smith, a retired private first class in the Army. Smith, who was stationed at a chemical center in Maryland, never experienced front-line duty. His job was quantifying the effects of certain chemical agents being deployed on the battlefield.



Seeing the display made him reflect on his role in the armed forces. “I thought about what I did,” Smith said. “I wasn’t fighting anybody but was backing them up in a way. … I’d like people to know the support from soldiers who weren’t in battle but doing major work to keep them out of danger.”

Josh Sokol of Middletown was walking among the rows with his daughter, Cordelia, hoisted on his shoulders. One of his best friends served in the military and lost some of his comrades. That reality made Sokol rethink the meaning behind Memorial Day.

“To see how he and other veterans — it hits them to the core when people say they’re going to drink beers and grill burgers and chicken," he explained. Sokol plans on instilling in Cordelia, 2½, an appreciation for service members' sacrifices.

This is the first year that Operation Stand Down Rhode Island has set up the memorial anywhere other than Roger Williams Park in Providence. The display, which also features identifying information and photos of each service member, will remain up through Memorial Day. A Gold Star Gala at Fort Adams is scheduled Friday night. Rhode Island Gold Star Families will place the boots of the 29 Rhode Islanders lost since Sept. 11.

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On Sunday at 7 p.m., the 88th Army Band will perform at Fort Adams State Park. Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, which has an office on Broadway, provides assistance to veterans, including a food pantry, job placement assistance and legal help. Admission for the display is free. Viewing hours are 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.

“We are paying honor to those people who sacrificed their lives for our country,” said Kathy Dominican of Jamestown.

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