Twenty-five South Boston men who were killed in the Vietnam War were remembered Sunday at Medal of Honor Park in a ceremony marking the 31st anniversary of a memorial built in their honor.
“Today, we remember how each one of these young men . . . lived their lives and touched us along the way,” the keynote speaker, General Joseph F. Dunford, assistant commandant of the US Marine Corps and a South Boston native, told a crowd of about 200 people. “We remember their service, their humor, their friendship, and we remember how much we miss them.”
On Sept. 13, 1981, the black stone memorial bearing the names of the fallen became the first in the country dedicated to the memory of Americans who served and died in Vietnam, a tribute with official recognition from the president and all five military branches.
The flags behind the monument flew at half-staff Sunday, and the fence circling it was adorned with red-white-and-blue bunting as relatives of the men and other veterans laid wreaths and roses at the site.
The front of the memorial, which stands atop a knoll in the park, between M and N streets and north of Broadway, is engraved with two rows of names and the words, “If You Forget My Death, Then I Died in Vain.”
Daniel Joyce of Quincy, whose brother, US Army Corporal John G. Joyce, is one of the men recognized on the monument, helped lay one of the wreaths. He credited the South Boston Vietnam Memorial Committee for its diligent work in mounting the rededication ceremony each year.
“They do a great job,” said Joyce. “It means a lot to everybody.”
Joan Turner, 71, of South Boston, is related by marriage to Marine Lance Corporal Donald J. Turner, whose name is carved into the monument. She attends the ceremony every year. “I get the goosebumps before it even starts,” she said.
The men who are recognized on the monument have not been forgotten, she said. “And they never will be.”
Thomas Lyons, chairman of the memorial committee, said during his remarks that the neighborhood took an important first step in recognizing soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam. He noted that many who returned from the war did not initially receive the warm welcome of others, including veterans of World War II.
“But here in Southie 31 years ago, we changed all that,” Lyons said. “Not simply for ourselves but for the rest of the nation as well.”
He also spoke in support of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “If we were groundbreakers 31 years ago with red carnations pinned to our chests, we stand here today as mentors to a generation of skilled, selfless veterans who have made the incredible sacrifices for freedom in not one, but two wars,” Lyons said.
Among the attendees was Elaine Savage, 63, whose late husband, Charles, served in Vietnam as a US Army pilot. She said he died eight years ago of complications stemming from exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical that was used in the war and that has been linked to health problems.
“These are all his friends,” Savage said of the men whose names appear on the memorial. “They were fine young men.”