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33,000 flags on Boston Common honor war dead

Families of soldiers lost in war plant flags, recall their bravery

More than 200 volunteers placed over 33,000 American Flags on a hill on the Boston Common.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

More than 200 volunteers placed over 33,000 American Flags on a hill on the Boston Common.

Marine Private Daniel McGuire was born in Middleborough and grew up on the Cape. He played a little bit of lacrosse and loved theatre. He was the oldest of four boys and was 19 when he was standing at his post in the middle of the night in Fallujah, Iraq. It was Aug. 14, 2008, a year and a day after he enlisted. His post was attacked and he was fatally shot.

“The key is, for us as parents, I don’t need you to pay constant tribute to my son, I can do that, but just don’t forget him,’’ said Mark McGuire, who planted a US flag for his son on Thursday in a flowing display of 33,000 other flags covering a grassy hill on Boston Common near the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

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About 200 volunteers planted the flags Wednesday. Each flag represented a Massachusetts service member killed in action since the Civil War. The hourlong event, the ‘‘Massachusetts Military Heroes’’ ceremony, was attended by about 300 people, including Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and about 20 families of service members killed in action.

A ‘‘roll call’’ was read of the names of the 159 Massachusetts service members killed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The list included Army Staff Sergeant Robert Pirelli of Franklin, a 29-year-old Green Beret killed in Baqubah, Iraq, on Aug. 15, 2007. Pirelli, who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University, was killed by small arms fire two months before he was scheduled to return home.

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“I get sick to my stomach, I wish he was here with me,’’ said his mother, Nancy Pirelli, 58. “It’s a good feeling knowing that they’re all being honored like this. Very good, because I know back with the Vietnam War, when they came home, people didn’t treat them like this, so it’s very good to know that they haven’t been forgotten.”

A skating rink in Franklin bears Pirelli’s name.

James Ayube II’s name was affixed to a one-mile bypass road in Salem last October. Ayube, a 25-year-old Army medic, was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on Dec. 8, 2010. Ayube had volunteered for a patrol to allow a fellow soldier to rest.

“Remembering and honoring them, not just my son, but all of them, really means a lot,’’ said James Ayube Jr., 54. “I know it’s hard for some families in this situation, because it’s such a personal thing. Believe me, I’m not criticizing somebody for going off to the Cape, because I was likely to do that before my son died. But just remember them, if not this weekend then maybe another time. They sacrificed their lives for this country.”

McGuire, 49, of Mashpee, had a message for the crowds that are sure to head in his direction this Memorial Day weekend.

“They just need a big banner on the bridge, saying ‘It’s not about the barbecue.’ Swing by the national cemetery in Bourne . . . you don’t need to know anyone there, just ride through.”

Reminders of the actual intent of Memorial Day were not just given by the families of the service members killed in action.

“There are people going down to the Cape or going to the mountains,’’ Menino said, standing at a lectern in front of the display of flags. “They forget, they forget the sacrifices made by so many men and women so we could have the freedom in America today.’’

Thomas Crohan, the vice president of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, which organized the event, preceded Menino’s speech, drawing the crowd’s attention to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument that serves as a centerpiece to the sprawling Common.

“Its plaque reads in part, ‘To the men of Boston who died for their country on land and sea, the grateful city has built this monument that their example may speak to coming generations,’ ” Crohan said. He added, “We hope these flags speak to the current generation, as a solemn reminder of the enormous sacrifice made by the heroes we honor today.”

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.
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