Flags for the fallen ripple over Boston Common

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/25/flags-for-the-fallen-ripple-over-boston-common/

BOSTON – Under a blistering afternoon sun, volunteers dotted Boston Common digging tiny holes to plant miniature American flags on Wednesday, preparing for an annual Memorial Day observance. Passersby stopped to snap pictures, while military families and friends paused to reflect on the fallen.

“This event has brought a lot of us together in a lot of ways,” said Erin Vasselian, a gold star widow who lost her husband in 2013. “Memorial Day is such a hard day –it is nice to have a positive thing to look forward to each year.”

Over 450 volunteers put out nearly 37,000 flags near the common’s Soldiers Monument, with each representing a Massachusetts resident who gave his or her life in conflicts from the Revolutionary War to today.

An additional 230 flags will be placed on Thursday to honor Massachusetts service members lost since Sept. 11, 2001, during a name reading ceremony that begins at 10:30 a.m. Both Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will join families and volunteers to reflect on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

The flags will be taken up at dusk on Monday, when Memorial Day is observed.

A volunteer stands out in the heat using a screw driver to dig hole in order to place an American flag (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

A volunteer stands out in the heat using a screw driver to dig hole in order to place an American flag (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals contributed their time and effort to create the visual memorial, including senior citizens, schools, veterans, corporate and individual volunteers.

The Massachusetts Heroes Fund came up with the idea seven years ago, after realizing that there was no major service for the families left behind from deaths in in recent conflicts.

“There wasn’t a significant holiday to honor those fallen post 9/11,” Matt Anderson, a fund board member and volunteer, said in an interview. He added that the event has grown significantly in size since it began.

Volunteers continue planting flags on the Boston Common this past Wednesday (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Volunteers continue planting flags on the Boston Common this past Wednesday (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

“When we first started, we only did research back through World War I and we only had 20,000 flags and 60 volunteers,” Anderson said. The first memorial took a full day to complete. Now, with the number being memorialized enlarged to encompass conflicts going back to the Revolutionary War, an influx of volunteers means setting up will be done four hours sooner.

“It caught on through social media,” said Christie Coombs, a fund board member who reflected on how the effort has reached so many more people affected by the sacrifices of the fallen. “It means a lot to them for people to remember.”

For Rick Bettencourt, volunteering for a fourth year, the event is fraught with meaning.

“When I’m here, I keep it in perspective what each flag means,” said Bettencourt, whose family has a deeply rooted tradition of military service. “What better way can you honor our fallen than in such a beautiful place as the Boston Common?”

Volunteers help each other plant flags (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Volunteers help each other plant flags (New Boston Post photo by Beth Treffeisen)

Bettencourt, who will bring his 11-year-old daughter to the Common Thursday, explained why: “It is important to let our sons and daughters learn, because it’s easy to forget.”

Watching the breeze play on the small standards, Maura McGowan Yanosick noted how the symbols make the Common “an emotional spot for everyone.” As the flags ripple with the wind, she said, the scene can become “very spiritual.”

The waving field of red, white and blue can grip the heart as well. Gerry Maguire, the district director of veteran services, grew teary eyed overlooking the memorial.

“We as veterans have a saying,” Maguire said. “As long as you say our name, we will never be forgotten.”

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