On a slope below the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Boston Common, Mary Ellen Callahan and her 5-year-old niece spent hours Wednesday planting American flags in memory of fallen soldiers who the girl said are “looking down from heaven.”
On Thursday, Callahan returned to the garden of nearly 37,000 flags and read her son’s name aloud during a ceremony honoring Massachusetts soldiers killed in the line of duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
As she spoke Marine Staff Sergeant Bill Callahan’s name, a flag paying tribute to him was added to the garden.
“It’s been seven years since his death,” said the 55-year-old Callahan, who lives in Hanson. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him.”
The ceremony marked the fifth year that the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund has paid tribute to every Massachusetts service member who has died in the line of duty since the Revolutionary War by planting American flags in their honor. The organization provides support to the families of military personnel with ties to the state who have died while serving their country since the 2001 attacks.
Five hundred volunteers planted most of the flags on Wednesday, while flags representing the 205 people from Massachusetts who have died on active duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were added during the ceremony attended by Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Martin J. Walshof Boston, and Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Callahan said her son was killed April 27, 2007, in Ramadi, Iraq, 17 days after his wife gave birth to a boy, Daniel Allan Callahan. The 28-year-old Marine named his son after two friends who were killed in Iraq by an improvised explosive device two years earlier, said Callahan.
Bill Callahan survived that attack, his mother said, and took the names of his fallen comrades, Marine Staff Sergeant Daniel Tsue of Hawaii and Navy Petty Officer Allan Espiritu of California for his son.
“He’s got three heroes, the name of three heroes,” Callahan said of her grandson, who turned 7 on April 10.
Mark Vasselian, of Ashland, N.H., said he attended the ceremony for the first time to plant a flag in honor of his 27-year-old son, who died in Afghanistan Dec. 23, 2013, after being shot in the chest by the Taliban.
Marine Sergeant Daniel M. Vasselian’s widow, Erin, read his name.
“I needed to hear his name as part of the service,” the 55-year-old Vasselian said.
During his remarks, Patrick singled out Vasselian, who lived in Abington, and 19-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Matthew R. Rodriguez, of Fairhaven, who died in Afghanistan on Dec. 11, 2013.
Patrick called the flag garden an “extraordinarily eloquent statement.”
“Today we express our gratitude to their service and the freedom for which they sacrificed,” Patrick said. “May we never forget their sacrifice and never fail to honor their memory.”
The flags will be on display until Monday at 6 p.m., said Stephen Kerrigan, president of the Heroes Fund.
During the weekend, volunteers have been scheduled to tend to the display, right and replace flags as needed, answer questions, and let people know they can sponsor a flag, said Christie Coombs, a member of the organization’s board and the widow of Jeff Coombs, who died on American Airlines Flight 11 during the 2001 attacks.
Santina Raymond of Lawrence, said she attended the event to honor her son, Army Sergeant Pierre Antoine Raymond, who was killed in Iraq.
His mother wears a gold medallion with Raymond’s image on it.
“He was a good, wonderful soldier,” Raymond said. “He wanted to help.”Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.