On the same day their son was killed 11 years ago in Iraq, Stephen and Judy Zabierek of Chelmsford stood among 37,000 American flags on Boston Common Thursday and paid tribute to all the Massachusetts soldiers who have died on active duty since the Revolutionary War.
“Isn’t it beautiful,” Judy Zabierek said. “You stop and think that every single flag represents a family.”
The couple’s son, Marine Lance Corporal Andrew J. Zabierek, 25, was among the 219 Massachusetts soldiers who have died since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
Those men and women were honored Thursday morning at a ceremony organized by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund in which the soldiers’ names were read aloud and a small American flag planted for them on the green below the Sailors and Soldiers Monument.
“It’s an amazing tribute,” said Stephen Zabierek. “Memorial Day is the one day that everybody honors the flag so it’s special.”
Andrew Zabierek, a Clemson University graduate, died May 21, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq as he was responding to a mortar attack, his mother said. He was nine days shy of his 26th birthday.
Stephen Zabierek said his son decided to leave his job as a financial advisor with American Express after the 9/11 attacks.
“He came home that night and said, ‘I’m going in,’ ” he said. “We couldn’t talk him out of it.”
During the ceremony, Judy Zabierek planted flags while her husband participated in the name reading. It took more than 600 volunteers two days to plant the flags. They will remain on display until Monday evening, organizers said.
Governor Charlie Baker reflected on his hometown of Swampscott where he lives on Monument Avenue, where the community has erected memorials to soldiers from every conflict dating back to the Civil War.
“The names on those memorials are the names of the families of Swampscott,” he said. “If you spend any time in that town, you know who the families are that have been there for generations. Those are the names, over and over again, that show up on those plaques because those families - when the call to serve came - they said yes.”
He called the flag display “one of the most moving and beautiful ways I’ve ever seen to honor all those who served and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
“Everyone of those flags out there has a family, friend, neighbors, fellow service men and women, communities that stood with them at some point when they made that brave decision to put on the uniform and serve their country,” Baker said.
Erin Vasselian, 28, read the poem “We Remember Them.” Her husband, Marine Sergeant Daniel Vasselian, 27, of Abington, died in Afghanistan Dec. 23, 2013.
“It’s an honor,” she said. “Just seeing all these flags puts into perspective what this weekend is about. . . We do have family members we’re missing every day not just this weekend.”
See more photos of the flags: