The singer belted out the first rousing lines of “The Star-Spangled Banner” just as the American flag and the POW/MIA flag rose to the tops of their poles over the Gardens Cemetery in West Roxbury on the gray morning of Memorial Day.
In the small crowd gathered beneath, some people closed their eyes or looked skyward, lost in private memories. Others stood with their hands over their hearts, mouthing the words silently, together: “Oh say can you see . . . ”
As Massachusetts continues its cautious emergence from the pandemic, people came together Monday in ceremonies across the state to mark Memorial Day, honoring service men and women who gave their lives, though there were fewer events than in years past.
At the USS Constitution, sailors read out the names of those who died on the warship before firing a 21-gun salute. At the newly restored Robert Gould Shaw 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial, on the edge of Boston Common, visitors signed a guest book and took pictures of the monument celebrating the free Black men from Massachusetts who fought in the Civil War. In Dorchester, city officials christened the corner of Centre and Adams streets “William Francis Dalton Square,” after a local Army sergeant who died in World War II.
And at the Gardens, more than 100 people marked the day with wreaths and bagpipes and roses placed solemnly before a battlefield cross — a rifle planted in an empty pair of combat boots and topped with a soldier’s helmet.
“We have to look no further than our own neighborhood to understand the courageous deeds of individuals that make this day so important,” said state Senator Mike Rush, vice chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. He began listing off the understated memorials people drive past every day in Boston without even realizing what they are: an intersection named for a fallen Vietnam veteran, a memorial square named for two brothers killed in World War II, a field named for a hero of World War I.
“This neighborhood and neighborhoods throughout our great city, and in cities and towns throughout the United States, have names and street corners and parks and memorials that call to each and every one of us to do one thing and one thing only: Remember,” he said.
Many in attendance said their own prayers, formal and informal.
Christopher Gussis, 92, said he found himself drifting back and forth in time, from World War II, where he served with his three brothers, to the cold and windy present day, where he stood on the grass in the Garden of Honor in front of the gravestone he has already purchased for himself.
“The older you are, the faster time goes,” he said. He and his brothers were lucky, he said — they survived the war. But he is the only one of them left. He talks to them still.
Pamela Byrne placed pink roses at the grave of her husband, James, a Marine who died this year of a stroke, and told him: “I love you, and I miss you.”
And Joe Hohmann, 87, a former Navy Seal, carries a picture from his service in his pockets and still laughs as he tells stories of the sailors he knew way back when. Great men he met in the Navy, he said.
When he visits the cemetery each year on Memorial Day, he says an Our Father and a Hail Mary for his friends.
“Eternal rest grant unto them,” he murmurs. “Let perpetual light shine upon them.”
Later in the afternoon, at the brand-new William Francis Dalton Square, Acting Mayor Kim Janey spoke of the sacrifices that service members and their relatives make — sacrifices she knows well, as a member of a military family herself.
“They gave up so much,” Janey said. “They made the ultimate sacrifice so that you and I could be here today and live our lives more freely.”
William Dalton died on Christmas Eve 1944 on the American troopship Leopoldville, which was sunk by a German U-boat. His family lived in a three-decker just down the street from where his hero’s square now proudly sits. Once, the Dalton family held big parties there. Now, they feel his memory is honored here.
At the end of the ceremony, William Dalton’s great-niece, Eden-Rose Dalton, whom he never met, played “Taps “for him on the trumpet.