The Wolf Hill Plane Crash Memorials
By Jim Ignasher
From his website New England Aviation History
Sixty-six years after three servicemen lost their lives in a military plane crash on Wolf Hill, in Smithfield, Rhode Island, two memorials were dedicated in the Town of Smithfield honoring their sacrifice.
On August 5, 1943, Lieutenant Saul Winsten, of Pawtucket, RI, Lieutenant Otis R. Portewig, of Richmond VA, and Sgt Herbert D. Booth, of Rahway, New Jersey, perished in the line of duty while on a routine flight from Westover Field to Otis Field in Massachusetts. The flight path brought them over Rhode Island where their aircraft lost an engine and crashed. (For more detailed information, see The Wolf Hill Plane Crash on the Town of Smithfield website, www.smithfieldri.com)
The project was years in the making and would not have been possible without the combined efforts and generosity of many people.
In 2006, a parcel of undeveloped land containing the crash site was purchased by the Smithfield Land Trust thus making the site accessible to the public. Shortly afterwards, a volunteer committee was formed consisting of military veterans belonging to the Balfour-Cole American Legion Post #64 in Spragueville, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2929 in Georgiaville, and several private citizens.
It was decided to erect two memorials; one in Deerfield Park that would contain the latitude and longitude of the crash site, and a second at the crash site on Wolf Hill. The Deerfield Park monument would serve as a reminder of the sacrifice made by the three servicemen, and the second would mark the site so it would not be forgotten. The decision was made to concentrate on the Deerfield Park project first.
The Deerfield Park Monument
Dedicated August 1, 2009
The ceremony in Deerfield Park was attended by dozens of people including many members of the Winsten Family.
The Deerfield Park site required committee members to attend public hearings, acquire permits, and negotiate the municipal process. Smithfield Parks and Recreation Manager, Thomas J. Tulie, was very helpful in guiding committee members through these requirements.
Funding was raised through corporate and private donations, either in the form of cash, materials, or labor. The Deerfield Park monument was donated by Granites of America, located on Rt. 7 in Smithfield. The engraving was done by A. Sciolto & Son Monuments of Cranston. The labor provided for setting the stone in place was done by the D’ Angelo family of Old County Road in Esmond, and the concrete required to anchor the monument in place was donated by Material Sand & Gravel of North Smithfield. Corporate donors included, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Bradford-Sutcliffe Insurance of Smithfield, Navigant Credit Union, Tucker Quinn Funeral Home of Greenville, and Adler Construction, also of Greenville. Both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars also made cash contributions. Other monetary donations came from local citizens wanting to help with the project.
The dedication ceremony took place August 1, 2009, and was attended by numerous members of the Winsten family, many of whom came from out of state. Two attendees were Joe and Harold Winsten, brothers of Lt. Saul Winsten who was lost in the crash. Joe recalled with emotion how he visited the crash site shortly after the accident and described what he saw.
Certificates of appreciation were given to the Winsten brothers by the American Legion and VFW, and State and Senatorial proclamations were provided through the efforts of Representative Tom Winfield and Senator John Tassoni. After a three-shot rifle salute, taps was played by a member of the Boy Scouts.
After the ceremony, all were invited to attend a reception held at the American Legion Post on Pleasant View Avenue.
The Wolf Hill Crash Site Monument
Dedicated October 18, 2009
After the dedication ceremony in Deerfield Park, efforts were begun to complete Phase II of the project and erect a second monument at the crash site. Barbara Rich and Jim Gass of the Smithfield Land Trust graciously assisted the committee in this matter.
A rose-granite stone was donated by State Representative Tom Winfield of Greenville. Engraving was done by the Glocester Monument Company of Chepachet. Site work and labor was again provided by the D’Angelo family. Getting supplies and equipment up to the site presented special logistical problems that were thankfully overcome.
It was during this process that a niece of Sergeant Herbert Booth, one of the men lost in the crash, contacted the committee after having learned of the project by a chance internet search. Up to this time, it had been thought that Sergeant Booth had been an only child because his obituary only listed his mother as a survivor, and his high school records didn’t list any siblings. In fact, Sergeant Booth was one of nine children, five of whom also served in World War II.
The dedication of the Wolf Hill monument took place October 18, 2009. Members of the Reback-Winsten Post of the Jewish War Veterans, located in Cranston, were in attendance to offer a prayer service and assist with the ceremony.
The weather that day was cold and rainy, yet twenty people made the nearly one mile trek up Wolf Hill to take part in the dedication.
Unfortunately, wartime aviation accidents such as this happened all too frequently, not only in Rhode Island, but across the nation. Rhode Island alone has literally hundreds of unmarked military aircraft crash sites, many of which resulted in fatalities. Sadly, due to wartime secrecy, the rapid transfer of personnel, and the constant development of breaking news, these sites were forgotten, and faded into obscurity after the war.
Those lost in these accidents gave their lives in the performance of their duty while in the service of their country during wartime. It is for this reason they should not be forgotten.