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A day to remember our fallen heroes

Speakers lament small crowds for Memorial Day

A group of people gathered to watch the Memorial Day Ceremony at Mount Hope Cemetery in Mattapan.

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe staff

A group of people gathered to watch the Memorial Day Ceremony at Mount Hope Cemetery in Mattapan.

Instead of a cookout on a sunny and warm Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day, Eva Leaston brought her teenage sons Elijah and Ronald from Brockton to Mount Hope Cemetery in Mattapan to help plant flowers along the graves of family members who were veterans.

It’s an annual tradition and the boys have absolutely no problem with that.

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“It’s just amazing that we come down here every year and we honor these people that I haven’t known, but from the stories I hear that they were great people and they fought for our country,” said 18-year-old Elijah, who had just planted flowers at the grave of World War II Army veteran Wilmer Leaston. “It does inspire me.”

A few lots away was Mary Fuller of Somerville with about 10 members of her family placing flowers at the grave of her former father-in-law and World War II Army veteran Emile D. Jacquard. It was a joyous affair for the group, spanning several generations, as they shared stories of their ancestry before going out for dim sum.

“We’re just amongst ourselves like, ‘Oh, I never knew that!’ ” Fuller said of the stories the family shared.

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“It’s fun for us to share how people were related,” added her niece Rachel Lee. “We’re learning today.”

The two groups were among a handful of families who paid respects to fallen veterans at Mount Hope Sunday afternoon, just a couple of hours after the city’s annual Memorial Day observance there, which was attended by only about a dozen people under gray morning skies.

In brief remarks at the foot of the World War I and World War II memorials, almost every speaker lamented the troubling trend of fewer people attending the annual observance organized by American Legion District 7.

“My only regret is that the numbers each year seem to dwindle,” said Cynthia Johnson-Smith, former president of the American Legion Auxiliary of Massachusetts. “But we are here. We can never forget, even though we may have other plans for this weekend, this is our priority. We must always remember the men and women who lie here today and across the state.”

Francisco Urena, the city’s veteran services commissioner, spoke on behalf of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, saying it was an honor to remember the more than 15,000 veterans buried at the cemetery, spanning conflicts from the Civil War to the present.

“May we remember the reason why we have Memorial Day — it is not a time to head to the beach, it is not a time to open up those barbecues,” Urena said. “There’s a time to remember all those who have sacrificed so that we may have the right to do all those great things that we do.”

The tribute included color guards, a gun salute by the American Legion Fogg Robert Post 78, and a band playing traditional military music, including “Taps.”

“They’re heroes, that’s what they are. They defended our country,” said Elizabeth Wing of Newton, who attended the ceremony with husband, Jones Wing, a Korean War Army veteran. She said the low attendance depressed her. “It bothers me that barbecues are more important.”

City Councilor Charles C. Yancey urged the crowd to remember the men and women in active conflicts today, who “offer their lives for the rights that even today we take for granted.”

“Every year we gather and seemingly every year we have more and more empty seats and that is a sad reminder about how much we take for granted,” Yancey said. “Every citizen of the United States has an obligation to say ‘thank you’ to the families of our loved ones who gave their lives for our way of life.”

Just before the start of the observance, Matthew Seto, commander of American Legion Boston Chinatown Post 328, scanned the cemetery, looking over the sea of graves decorated with American flags and stressed the importance of remembering the country’s heroes.

“A lot of sacrifice is made, and taking one day out of the year to come here to see all these flags [for] all of these servicemen and women, it’s an important part of our civic duty as Americans,” said Seto, a Marine who served in Iraq. “This is just one day out of your weekend, taking one hour, two hours out of your day just to come here just to remember, as a solidarity to say ‘thank you.’”

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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