Hundreds of children, veterans, public officials, and other residents watched Thursday as a band of Minutemen reenactors fired three shots into the air at Dorchester Heights, part of a tribute to the 240th anniversary of Evacuation Day.
The holiday, officially observed in Suffolk County, commemorates the withdrawal of British forces from Boston on March 17, 1776, in the early stages of the Revolutionary War. American troops had brought cannons from Fort Ticonderoga in New York to fortify Dorchester Heights, eventually causing Britain to retreat.
The day is a source of unity and pride for America and South Boston, according to several speakers at Thursday’s commemoration, including Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
“There’s no doubt that Bostonians 240 years ago had differences of opinions, whether it was politics or parade routes,” Walsh said in a reference to the city’s unsuccessful attempt to shorten South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “They didn’t let their differences get in the way of them working together. Those brave men and women stood on this hill in solidarity to protect our city from harm and make the future brighter.”
The observance took place in front of the 115-foot-tall monument atop Dorchester Heights, and featured a ceremonial laying of the wreath on a memorial stone nearby.
“Nothing compares to being here on the Heights yourself,” said Michael Creasey, superintendent of the National Parks of Boston. “To see these views of the city and of Boston Harbor makes you realize what an incredible feat it was for the colonists who fortified this hill.”
Joe Cebartas, a 67-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War, said the service had special significance for him.
“I grew up here. I try to make it up here every year,” he said. “It’s a very historical event . . . and it’s good to see the neighbors, see the festivities.”
Young children from several area schools said they found the ceremonies to be educational and inspiring.
“It’s important, because the country probably would not exist” if not for the American troops at Dorchester Heights, explained Thomas Germain, a third-grader at St. Peter Academy. “They were here, they moved the cannons here, and drove the British out.”
Because Evacuation Day shares a date with St. Patrick’s Day, many in the audience wore green shirts, hats, ties, and even sunglasses. Although separate holidays, they share a connection, according to William Desmond, commander of the Allied War Veterans.
“On the day of the actual evacuation, at the picket lines round the Heights, the sentries had to hear a password for anyone entering or leaving,” Desmond told the crowd.
That password was St. Patrick.