Was it worth it?
It's a question Lauren Ayube has considered countless times since a suicide bomber killed her husband, James, in Afghanistan nearly six years ago.
On Friday, she confronted that question again as a memorial bearing the name of US Army Sergeant James A. Ayube II and 217 other soldiers was dedicated in the Seaport District.
This time, the question was posed by retired Marine Corps General John F. Kelly, who delivered the keynote address at the dedication of the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial.
The park and memorial honor soldiers with ties to Massachusetts who have died since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"That's a question people ask me. If you knew how it ended, would you still do it?" said Ayube, a Salem resident who was married to James Ayube, 25, for just under three years.
The medic was on patrol in Chehel Gazi, Afghanistan, when he was killed on Dec. 8, 2010.
"I would do it all again. Our marriage. Everything," said Ayube, 29, a case worker at the New England Center and Home for Veterans in Boston. "Even if it had to end the way that it did, I would do it again. It was worth it for me."
Kelly, who grew up in Brighton, said the answer came to him when he buried his son, Marine First Lieutenant Robert M. Kelly, at Arlington National Cemetery. The younger Kelly, 29, was killed by an improvised explosive device on Nov. 9, 2010, in Sangin, Afghanistan.
"It doesn't matter what we, the living, think. It doesn't matter even what a Gold Star family thinks," Kelly said. "The only person that could answer that question, 'Was it worth it?' is him or her."
Kelly said his son concluded "it was worth risking everything, including his life, and he answered that question for me."
The dedication ceremony was the culmination of a six-year campaign by the nonprofit Massachusetts Fallen Heroes to build the memorial on Northern Avenue, said Dan Magoon, the organization's executive director.
The group, which is made up of firefighters, police officers, veterans, Gold Star families, and others, was "born on a napkin in the back room of Florian Hall," said Magoon, a Boston firefighter and Army combat veteran. The nonprofit went on to raise $2 million to build the memorial.
The state kicked in $150,000, and the organization raised the rest of the money privately, while the land was donated by Boston Global Investors and WS Development, Magoon said. The memorial, he said, is the only one of its kind in the country.
"It gives us a place to come and reflect. It gives the families a place to come and reflect," Magoon said. "It's an open public space, but at the same time it's still a place of honor."
The memorial has a five-sided diaphanous column that reaches 50 feet into the air and symbolizes the five branches of military service. The column sits in a reflecting pool and is illuminated at night, Magoon said.
The names of the soldiers honored on the memorial are etched in glass. Nearby is a grove of five trees that pays tribute to soldiers who committed suicide following their military service.
A number of dignitaries attended Friday’s dedication ceremony, including Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, Governor Charlie Baker, and former Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts, a soldier from Nashua, N.H., who received the Medal of Honor.
"This is the first time that I've seen this memorial in person, and I'm never prepared for the weight that I feel of their sacrifice at every memorial I visit," Pitts said.
Faith Ndururi, 26, attended the dedication to honor her sister, Christine, an Army specialist who died in Kuwait in 2007.
"She joined the military to make a difference," said Ndururi, who lives in Dracut. "She wanted to go out there and fight for this beautiful country."
Ndururi said she is glad her older sister is being remembered.
"She'd be happy just to see that she's never forgotten and to see that there's people who still remember her and still love her," she said. "She's looking down on us, and she's really happy."