It began, in the fractured aftermath of the Civil War, as Decoration Day. Then, as now, the commemoration that would come to be known as Memorial Day saluted those who had died in battle.
But it is a day, too, for those who survived war to reflect on their service. In Massachusetts, an estimated 379,000 men and women — those who fought and those who served during peacetime — are counted among the ranks of veterans.
For some, decades have passed since they left the military. For others, it has been only a few weeks. Whether they fought in the muddy foxholes of the Rhineland or navigated roads in Afghanistan pocked with improvised explosive devices, there are certain bonds unbroken by time. A desire that respect be accorded their sacrifice. A plea that they not be forgotten. “When you go to the ceremonies, when you go to the cemeteries, and you see the veterans that are there, particularly those who have served in combat, you can see it on their faces that it’s not just about being there to honor those that have fallen,” said Coleman Nee, a Desert Storm Marine who is now the state’s secretary of veterans’ services. “It’s also for them as well.”
37,000 veterans in Massachusetts (Afghanistan and Iraq combined)
Major Marianne Miller, 42, of West Roxbury. Army Reserve
Where she served: Balad, 2003-04
Why she served: Miller said she comes from a military family, so joining the service was a natural choice. “I feel like it’s an important part of my life to serve in the military and to serve our country in that way.”
On patriotism: “I truly believe that this is the greatest country in the world, and I think that in order to maintain that, and in order to be part of the greatest country in the world, that there are certain things we are required to do as citizens, and military service is just one of them.”
43,000 veterans in Massachusetts
Corporal Ed Toland, 81, of South Boston.
Where he served: Inchon to Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir, 1950
Why he served: “At that time, everything was still wrapped up in World War II. Patriotism was very strong, and kids my age, we had just missed World War II, and we joined anyway.”
On patriotism: “It means enjoying the freedom that we have. It’s a great country — when you’ve been around other countries, it’s the place to be.”
120,000 veterans in Massachusetts
Lance Corporal Jim Shea, 63, of Weymouth.
Where he served: Near Da Nang, 1967
Why he served: “I wanted to test myself, I wanted to turn around, and I wanted to be one of the best. I wanted to see what I was made out of.”
On patriotism: Shea said patriotism needs to be preserved as it recedes in America. “It’s what we were founded on. It was a whole bunch of guys that turned around and gave it all to build our country.”
WORLD WAR II
37,000 veterans in Massachusetts
Corporal Frank Taraburelli, 86, of Chelsea. Army
Where he served: Across the European theater, 1943-46
Why he served: Taraburelli was bored as a teen in Revere and signed up for the Army to experience the action of battle. “You had good days and bad days, but they always had me doing something.”
On patriotism: “I don’t go for that. I did it because I wanted to do it, and that was it. Being patriotic and all that, that’s part of it. But mostly it was for the excitement, the action.”
31,000 veterans in Massachusetts.
Major Richard McGill, 48, of Roslindale. Army Reserve
Where he served: Saudi Arabia, starting at the Port of Dammam, 1990-91.
Why he served: A student at Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio, McGill joined the ROTC program at nearby Franklin University. “I was in college and needed money for school.”
On patriotism: “It really reminds me not to take anything for granted, and how you look around, and you see there truly are things in this country worth fighting for.”
37,000 veterans in Massachusetts (Afghanistan and Iraq combined).
Staff Sergeant Matt Nelson, 31, of Hyde Park. Marine Corps
Where he served: Helmand Province, 2011-12
Why he served: “I just come from a long lineage of veterans, and it’s your duty to the country to keep the country strong and keep the wolves at bay.”
On patriotism: Nelson said patriotism is standing up for the country and all its people. “Patriotism goes beyond all of those things that separate people, and being an American and a patriot in America goes through all that.”