Students pay tribute as remains of Vietnam soldier come home

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When word spread that the remains of Cranston native and fallen Vietnam soldier Lt. Col. Fredric Moore Mellor were being returned home last week, many Cranston public schools sprang into action, in collaboration with the Cranston Police Department, in order to give him a hero’s welcome. It was a welcome that many did not receive decades ago, at the conclusion of the Vietnam War.

Lt. Col. Mellor, who hailed from the Eden Park section of Cranston, was a pilot in the Air Force, shot down on Aug. 13, 1965 while on a reconnaissance flight. His remains were not found and positively identified until recently. He had been classified until that point as Missing in Action and was listed as Rhode Island’s first casualty of the Vietnam War and one of seven Rhode Islanders unaccounted for in all, according to an article printed in the Providence Journal this past Memorial Day, written by Lt. Col. Mellor’s sister-in-law, Colleen Kelly Mellor. Soon after her article ran, word reached Rhode Island that his remains had been identified and were being returned home.

On Sept. 26, Mellor’s family passed Western Hills Middle School and Cranston West High School, along with his remains that had just been flown in to TF Green airport in an escorted procession. The 770 students, along with the staff from WHMS, lined both sides of the street holding American flags, while up the road students and staff representing Cranston High School West also waited at attention for the procession to pass by en route from the airport to the Nardolillo funeral home on Park Avenue. The procession included members of Mellor’s family, veterans of the Vietnam War, and the Cranston Police Department.

WHMS Principal Tim Vesey expressed his pride both in person at the school’s open house events that week, and in his weekly email to WHMS families on Friday.

“I was very proud of our students this past Wednesday when we all went outside to pay respect to Lt. Col. Fredric Moore Mellor as his remains went past us on their way to the funeral home,” Vesey said. “Our students stood silently as a procession went by that also included numerous police officers, Vietnam veterans, and his family. The family was visibly moved by the large number of students that came out that day.”

On Friday, Sept. 28, the National Junior Honor Society and student council members from Park View Middle School lined the sidewalk outside of St. Matthew’s Church on Park Avenue and the school community at Hugh B. Bain Middle School lined the sidewalks in front of the school, all sporting rain gear as the weather was not cooperative that morning. The bells tolled from the bell tower at St. Matthew’s Church as the procession passed by, originating from Nardolillo Funeral Home and heading towards the RI Veterans Cemetery in Exeter.

“Participating in this event really sent a message to our students,” said Ann Marie Torres and Cara Fitzgerald, who coordinated the event for their students at Park View. ”This left a lasting impression in many of them.”

Principal Cheryl Anderson expressed her pride to the school community in her weekly newsletter.

“I am so proud of your children,” she said. “They came prepared for the uncooperative weather, were ready and willing to participate, and were so well behaved throughout. Thank you for teaching your children compassion and respect.”

Bain Principal Jeff Taylor noted the impression that was left from the day’s events far exceeded the expectations.

“We had a great number of students across all three grades participate on Friday,” he said. “Without a doubt, I had thought that this was a wonderful thing for our students to see and be a part of. That said, what I, or perhaps any of us, hadn’t realized is how much our presence there that day would mean as much as it did to the families in the procession. Not only did many thank us as they drove by, they were taking pictures and videos of our students as they passed. It was an honor for Bain to have been part of this history.”

CHSW Principal Tom Barbieri hoped this would be the first of many returns to come.

“CHSW was honored to pay Respect to Lt. Col. Mellor. He is finally home,” he said. “Our work should not stop here. Now we must continue to work to get the [rest of the missing] service men and women back home from Southeast Asia.” 

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