We lost a great American the other day. Dan Galvin was 94 years old when he died, but in some ways he was always that 21-year-old sailor on board the USS Quincy when it sailed into the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942.
Japanese warships sank the Quincy, and Dan Galvin was the last guy off the ship, into the water. Almost half of the 800 men on the Quincy died that day, but Dan Galvin lived and he never forgot his shipmates.
Every Aug. 9, Galvin put on his sailor’s uniform and stepped onto his front porch in Hanover and read the names of each of the 389 men who went down with the Quincy.
Dan Galvin will be buried with full military honors on Wednesday. His passing, and the extraordinary gesture he performed to recall the sacrifice of so many, is a reminder of the profound duty we all have to remember those who have served this country in uniform.
But what about those who are serving right now? Joanna Kjellman was thinking of them last summer, as she stood in the sprawling, bucolic backyard of her Westwood home. A year before, her daughter’s wedding reception was held in that same yard, and she was thinking of that and thinking of giving back and it all just came together in her head.
“People in our military give so much,” she told me. “Why not give them something back? Why not give someone serving in the military a beautiful outdoor wedding?”
Why not indeed. The people at Massachusetts Fallen Heroes were natural partners. They are spearheading the construction of a memorial to all those from Massachusetts who have died in service to the country since 9/11. But they are just as concerned with the living as the dead.
“It’s just a great idea, and all credit goes to Joanna,” said Chris Lessard, the project director at Mass Fallen Heroes and a former Marine.
The idea is to hold an essay contest, open to active members of the military from Massachusetts. They have to explain in 500 words or less their love story, why they’re getting married, and why they are most deserving of a free wedding for up to 100 people in Joanna Kjellman’s backyard.
And when I say free, I mean free. Everything will be paid for. The catering, the tent and dance floor, the flowers, the wedding cake, the DJ, the photographer.
Kjellman said she has been overwhelmed by the willingness of business owners to volunteer their services.
When she called J.G. Willis in Watertown, asking about a tent, the owner, Keith Wauters, said they were all in.
When she called Salon One in Wellesley, Karen Winters offered to make the wedding party look perfect.
When she called Judy’s Village Flowers in Foxborough, all they wanted to know was the date.
Other vendors, like a caterer, need a firm date. Whoever wins the contest will have to get married sometime between July 15 and Aug. 31. Kjellman is setting up a fund that other vendors can contribute to, if they can’t go all in.
“The good will among vendors is amazing,” Kjellman said. “Whatever they don’t cover, I’ll cover.”
In the meantime, anybody who wants to submit an essay should go to www.massfallenheroes.org and click on the “Dream Wedding Contest” section.
Lessard said they’ve gotten 14 entries so far, and several of them are what he called really solid. The newly extended deadline is, appropriately enough, Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. The winner will be announced Feb. 22
Kjellman hopes this isn’t a one-off.
“I hope this gives other people other ideas,” she said. “Maybe it’ll be a town or a school that will sponsor something. We owe our service people a lot more than they’re getting.”
Whenever that wedding in Joanna Kjellman’s backyard takes place, here’s hoping they toast not just the married couple, but the memory of Dan Galvin and everybody else who wore the uniform.