CENTRAL FALLS, RI (WPRI) – It’s one Airman’s name but getting it carved in stone meant everything to a man who lives about 3,500 miles away from Central Falls.
“And I’m happy to be here,” Philippe Vanderdonckt said. “And to see the results. I knew I’d come here someday, but I didn’t know when.”
He was in Central falls for the first time ever, to receive a Mayor’s citation. But the Belgium resident had his eyes on the city’s memorial for years. The connection is a World War II veteran – Gilbert Malraite whose roots also stretch to Belgium.
“I know his family. I know his cousins. His nephews,” Vanderdonckt said. “They are all concerned with this monument.”
Young Gil would grow up to be a navigator on a B-24, and he was part of the air corp that helped liberate Belgium. Vanderdonckt points out that in his homeland, American service personnel are revered for their bravery.
“He’s a hero,” he said.”And he went down April 4th, 1944. He was killed.”
But this is a tale that starts with the dedication of Providence’s World War II memorial about seven years ago, when Cranston’s Bob Petrone snapped some pictures of the event. Vanderdonckt saw the shots via the internet and then found out that while Malraite’s name was etched in Providence, it was left off the memorial in his hometown. Soon, he and Petrone were working together.
A few months after a Street Story aired about their tireless effort, Malraite’s name was added to the memorial.
“He was American. He was born here. And because he was nearly forgotten, we did this,” Vanderdonckt said after laying a wreath near his hero’s name.
Petrone added some perspective.
“The people of Belgium know what it’s like to lose their freedom,” Petrone said. “He gave his life for his country.”
Malraite’s name is now on four memorials, which is more than worth if you ask Petrone, Vanderdonct and many others.
“It’s very emotional for me,” Vanderdonct said.