Veterans Voice: Officer candidate school forged enduring bonds for this group

In 1957, West Warwick Reggie was riding high.

At 17, he was a junior in high school and a talented trumpet player.

“I was ‘Mr. Music,’” Reggie reminisced recently. “I was dating a cheerleader. the best-looking girl in the school. And then she dumped me!”

“You’re not mature enough,” she told him. “Why don’t you join the Army and grow up?”

So he did.

He enlisted in September 1957.

Members of Rhode Island's fifth Officer Candidate School at their graduation party in July 1962. The assistant commandant, Lt. Col. Benjamin Hague, stands at front center, with tactical officers 2nd Lt. Rosindo E. Caldarone immediately to his left and 2nd Lt. Raymond W. Casey to his right. The graduates are, from left: Ambrose A. Gallagher, Robert J. Gould, Thomas M. Frazer, Paul A. Dunphy, Reginald A. Centracchio, James S. Toczko, John W. Nelson III, Richard M. Ciaramello and Richard G. Reis.

Reginald A. Centracchio: Retired three-star general

In 2005, 48 years later, Reginald A. Centracchio retired as a three-star general, having served the previous 10 years as Rhode Island’s adjutant general. He was the first Guardsman to rise from private to adjutant general in Rhode Island’s history.

That journey began in 1961, when Centracchio was one of 54 candidates to join the fifth-ever class of Rhode Island’s Officer Candidate School. Fifteen months later, only 10 graduated.

On April 2, three members of that class met at Camp Varnum in Narragansett for their 60th reunion.

Three of the 10 graduates have died, and two have moved to Arizona. Two others still live locally but could not attend for medical reasons. The three attendees were Centracchio, Tom Frazer and Paul Dunphy.

Tom Frazer: First RI OCS graduate to attain general officer rank

Frazer was the first Rhode Island OCS graduate to attain general officer rank, becoming assistant adjutant general in 1990. Centracchio was the second, when he was appointed adjutant general in 1995.

Both graduated from OCS on their birthdays: July 23. (Frazer is two years older.)

Current Adjutant Gen. Chris Callahan welcomed them on the parade ground near the ocean. They adjourned to the mess hall for a briefing on the world situation and the role our Rhode Island Guard plays.

The 1962 grads enjoyed a box lunch with several cadets from the 2022 Class #66. The group then toured Fort Varnum, bringing back memories from decades ago.

“I actually sat on my old bunk,” said Frazer, who has held this small group together over the years.

The Rhode Island OCS program started in 1957. Each course started in May and consisted of two weekends of training each month, plus two intense, two-week training periods during the summers at Camp Varnum.

When the fifth class began, John F. Kennedy was in the White House. During the course, the Bay of Pigs fiasco took place and the Berlin Wall went up.

The 54 soldiers who began the program came from all branches of the Guard, and a few came from Army Reserve units.

“We reported at the Cranston Street Armory,” recalled Frazer. “I drove in with my wife Carolyn and two small children. The harassment started immediately.

“You had that feeling – what have I gotten into? Tactical officers and upperclassmen were screaming at the top of their lungs as we exited our vehicles.”

Reginald Centracchio, left, Tom Frazer, center, and Paul Dunphy at their 60th Officer Candidate School reunion.
Reginald Centracchio, left, Tom Frazer, center, and Paul Dunphy at their 60th Officer Candidate School reunion.

Some soldiers just got back into their cars and drove away.

By the time of the summer encampment two months later the class had been reduced by half.

Advancing in the ranks

Tom Frazer was born and raised in Providence, graduating from Hope High School.

“I knew I wasn’t going to college,” he said. “I had to work right away. In October of 1956 I enlisted, and in March of 1957 I went to work full time for the Guard."

After graduating from the Non-Commissioned Officers Academy in February 1961, “Four enthusiastic NCOs ‘nudged’ me to go to OCS.”

Frazer stayed in the Guard his entire career, working most of that time in the property and fiscal office. He retired in 1994 as a brigadier general.

Reggie Centracchio was born in West Warwick in 1940. His uncles had served in World War II and his next door neighbor was one of the Band of Brothers.

After enlisting he thought he might make it a career.

“If I was going to stay in the Army I should become an officer,” he decided.

He was commissioned an air defense artilleryman.

“In OCS, camaraderie was what got you through. Tom Frazer and I bonded, and after graduation he went into the field artillery, and I went to a missile site in Foster.”

This was one of five Nike sites in Rhode Island during the Cold War — the last line of defense if Soviet bombers eluded our fighter interceptors.

“We were on high alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis,” he said wryly.

Centracchio steadily advanced in rank and responsibility, eventually retiring as a colonel in 1992.

He spent three years in real estate — a fish out of water for a career military man. In 1995 Gov. Lincoln Almond named him Adjutant General, a position he held for the next 10 years.

Looking back, Centracchio observes, “Time goes by so damned quick … you close your eyes and 60 years have passed. Last week I told a cadet, 'Take advantage of your youth, because time passes quicker than you think.'"

Centracchio had three children with his first wife. Linda Lindgren, who died of cancer in 1990. Six years later, he married again, to Linda Felici. They live in Scituate.

Paul Dunphy: 'Being an officer had real advantages'

Paul Dunphy was born in Providence. He graduated from La Salle Academy in 1955 and from Providence College in 1959.

“As a senior,” Dunphy said, “I had to do two things: get a job, and complete my military obligation.”

He enlisted in 1958, serving in a quartermaster unit in Cranston.

“Even though I had no intention of pursuing a military career, being an officer had real advantages," he said. "So I applied for OCS.”

He married his wife, Marilyn, in 1960. One of the reasons he left the Guard was the conflict between weekend duty and raising three children.

Dunphy worked for Sealol, then IBM while serving in the Guard. In 1977 he began running his own custom label printing business in East Lyme, Connecticut. He retired in 2002 and lives in Niantic, Connecticut.

3 class members have died

Robert Gould was the “outsider,” a New Yorker who graduated from Iona College in 1957. He enlisted in 1955. His classmates recall his sole motivation for OCS was to fly.

In June 1969, Gould was flying a small airplane in Vietnam when a monsoon came out of nowhere, causing his plane to crash on takeoff. He was badly burned, and spent five months at the Army Burn Center in Texas.

Medically retired, he enjoyed a successful career in the Kansas City area. He died July 31, 2017, and is buried in the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.

Ambrose Gallagher was born in Providence in 1936 and served in the Korean War. “Amby was our leader,” recalled Frazer. “His prior active duty helped our class a lot.”

Amby left the Army and joined New England Telephone, where he worked as an equipment technician for 29 years, retiring in 1995. He and his wife moved to Glocester in 1970, where they raised two sons. He died March 24, 2012.

Providence native James Toczko was a 1955 classmate of Dunphy at La Salle.

He enlisted, graduated from OCS and served until 1966. He earned a marketing degree from Bryant College and worked in the precision tool industry, eventually running his own business. He was married for 42 years before his death Oct. 27, 2020.

Other living members of the class

Richard Ciaramello started his own construction business after OCS. Later, he did tours at the National Guard Bureau in communications. He lives in Smithfield with his wife, Marcia. They have a daughter, Julie, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Rhode Island Air Guard.

John Nelson as a National Guard officer in the 1970s.
John Nelson as a National Guard officer in the 1970s.

Middletown native John Nelson III wanted to drive a tank. So he also joined the Army at 17 while still attending Rogers High School.

He eventually ended up with the 115th Military Police Company, which was activated to West Point, replacing active duty MPs sent to Vietnam.

He volunteered for Vietnam, and ended up as the personnel officer of a Combat Engineer Battalion in the First Infantry Division.

He served with distinction, earning two Bronze Stars and two Commendation Medals for his active duty.

Nelson was working for Hospital Trust Bank when he was activated.

He left banking to start his own firm helping small businesses get capital. “I helped over 2,000 small businesses and raised over $160 million,” he told The Journal in 2020.

Nelson continued with the Guard, eventually serving as commandant of OCS. He transferred to an Army Reserve Civil Affairs group before retiring as a lieutenant colonel after more than 35 years service.

Nelson still lives in Middletown with wife Betty Anne, whom he married in 1964; they have three children.

Frazer recalls Richard G. Reis as being “the brain of our group,” who graduated first in academics. Reis went on to flight school and flew in the Rhode Island Guard for several years. He was an artillery major in 1973.

Reis was born in Middletown in November 1936, and enlisted in 1956. He moved to the Tucson area when he retired, and is believed to be living in Arizona.

John J. Wilkinson, known as Jack, was born in March 1937. He graduated from Pawtucket West High School and attended Rhode Island College. He enlisted in September 1959, and transferred from Artillery to Infantry in 1964.

He moved to Fountain Hills, Arizona, where he lives today.

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This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI Officer Candidate School graduates meet for 60th reunion