Robert Flynn grew up just steps away from Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester and said he remembers fondly the Memorial Day parade passing by his home. It was a day of barbecues and family, he said.
But speaking before a crowd of hundreds Monday morning in an annual ceremony at the cemetery commemorating the war dead, Flynn said, “Today, Memorial Day carries far more significance in my mind and heart.”
While serving in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, Flynn was injured by a bomb blast in 2011. He was honorably discharged a year later as a corporal. But two of his onetime roommates were not so lucky; they were killed in other attacks.
Flynn’s story was one of the most poignant moments in a more than hourlong Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery. The commemoration featured several political leaders, including Mayor Martin J. Walsh, US Representative Stephen Lynch, and state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, as well as another Marine, Michael Ball, who also grew up near the cemetery.
Walsh called the commemoration one of “Dorchester’s greatest traditions.” He spoke eloquently of the sacrifices those in the military make to ensure the security and freedom of the United States.
“The lives of our fallen heroes run like a river through the history of our nation,” Walsh said. “All that we take pride in, all that we have achieved, and all that we hope for the future, it floats through these waters of sacrifice.”
Toward the start of the ceremony, the organizers — who came from local posts of Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the DAV and Amvets — paused to remember firefighter Michael Kennedy and fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr., who died battling a raging fire inside a Back Bay brownstone this spring.
“The events of March 26, 2014, show you don’t have to be on a battlefield to protect your country,” said Francis Cahill, past commander of St. Mark’s VFW Post 1758, who was master of ceremonies. “On a cold, windy afternoon on the streets of Boston, two young firefighters placed themselves in danger with tragic results.”
Cahill called the color guard to attention and then those in the crowd bowed their heads for a moment of silence.
The ceremony also addressed a pressing public policy issue facing veterans’ health care, as the US Department of Veteran Affairs grapples with allegations that dozens of veterans at a Phoenix facility may have died while awaiting care.
Lynch attempted to reassure veterans that their well-being is in good hands at area veterans’ hospitals. As evidence, Lynch noted that the area hospitals recently received high ratings from two review teams sent from Veterans Affairs at the urging of Walsh, Forry, and others shortly after the Phoenix scandal unfolded.
“They consider what we are doing here with our vets to be among the best practices,” Lynch said.
But he then added that the review team cited backlogs in two areas, dermatology and mental health. He said Walsh, Forry, and other city leaders will meet June 5 to discuss the findings.
The ceremony was held after a parade in the Adams Village area of Dorchester, where children and families lined the streets waving US flags. The parade included several veterans’ organizations and other groups, including a small marching band from the Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School in Dorchester.
The Dorchester event was one of many around the region commemorating Memorial Day. In Needham, several hundred people attended a ceremony where a monument was dedicated to the 97 residents who have died in battle.
The monument, “Needham’s Fallen Brave,” recognized the “brave Needham citizens who valiantly lost their lives in service to our country from the Revolutionary War to the present.”