As Bob Funke stood against a brilliant blue sky at the edge of Boston Harbor on Monday afternoon, the Vietnam veteran said he would much rather spend the day celebrating life, but had come to honor those who died in combat.
“Every time I hear ‘Taps,’ I know that one of my brothers or sisters has moved on before me,” he said. “These wars have affected each and every one of us in one way or another.”
Funke, who earned two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts during two tours of duty in Vietnam, joined about 150 others in Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park Monday afternoon to celebrate Memorial Day by remembering Massachusetts soldiers who had given their lives in service to their country.
“Memorial Day is a day we should remember those who stood where others would not stand, and tread where others would not go,” Funke said. “Let us, the living, work toward peace and get away from these stinking wars.”
The event, hosted by the local Veterans for Peace chapter and several other groups, focused on the rising number of servicemen and women who have taken their lives after returning from combat.
“We also mourn the loss of our men and women who suffer from hidden or unspoken consequences of war such as suicide, substance abuse, and [post-traumatic stress disorder],” said Pat Scanlon, a Vietnam War veteran who coordinated Monday’s event. “One of the things we wanted to do this year is focus on the incidence and issue of suicide. The incidence of suicide in Afghanistan and Iraq is going up. What is the cause for that? If this is still going up that means, potentially, it is going to keep going up as this gets worse and worse.”
Kevin Lucey spoke from firsthand experience about suicide among veterans. His son Jeffrey, a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War, hanged himself with a garden hose in the basement of his parents’ home in 2004.
“Let not another veteran find the way to escape their pain by taking their own life,” he said. “We have to demand from our government that they respect and give our vets the best treatment on this planet.”
Not forgotten at Monday’s event were Afghan and Iraqi civilians who lost their lives as their countries became war zones. Among those remembered was an Afghan man named Zalmai, who became an interpreter so he could earn enough money to marry a woman.
“He was a true romantic,” said Captain Bradford Adams, who regularly worked with Zalmai. “We were like hand and glove.”
On the last day of Adams’s 2003 tour of duty in Afghanistan, a vehicle broke down and needed to be repaired with a part that would have to be fetched from the nearest town.
“Everything that went wrong from time to time went wrong on that day,” Adams said. “While the Americans went back to the compound, Zalmai volunteered to go into town to get a replacement part. He didn’t come back.”
To conclude the ceremony, veterans read the names of each Massachusetts soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. With each name, a carnation was dropped into the harbor to the sound of a tolling bell.
“The tide has come in to accept these flowers,” Funke said.