As members from each of the five military branches stood at attention, relatives of fallen servicemen and servicewomen placed yellow roses in a pool of water at the base of a towering memorial in the Seaport District.
Every day is Memorial Day for Gold Star families, said speakers at the Saturday morning ceremony for the re-dedication of the monument.
“People don’t get it,” said Daniel Magoon, executive director of Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, to the audience. “They don’t understand what it means to be a Gold Star family. They don't even know what a Gold Star family is.”
The Army combat veteran said his organization is visiting schools to help youth understand the issues Gold Star families face — and to keep alive the memories of those lost. The nonprofit launched Patriot Week for the second year as a lead-in to Memorial Day with “Honor Their Service” community events across the state.
“We feel a tremendous pressure: that it’s our responsibility to be the sole keeper of our hero’s memory,” said Maggie Brothers, whose husband, Army major Steven T. Brothers, died in 2012 during his service.
“It’s my feeling that someone truly dies when there is no one left to tell his or her story, or share his or her memories,” she said to the crowd.
Brothers recalled being “married to the military,” with the sense of belonging that comes from such a lifestyle. But when her husband died — of leukemia, only months after being diagnosed, according to an obituary — she felt “stranded on an island.”
Brothers’ husband was buried at Arlington Nation Cemetery — a “tremendous honor,” she said, though not a resting place she could easily drive to when she needs to feel his presence. But the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes memorial is somewhere she can visit for comfort.
And the memorial helps foster that sense of cohesion that she had felt as a military wife. The evening after the dedication of the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes memorial in May 2016, she said, she was sitting on a bench and struck up a conversation with a stranger who happened to be a Gold Star family member.
The five-sided diaphanous column, symbolizing the five military branches, reaches 50 feet into the air. The names of the 281 soldiers honored are etched in glass, military members who were killed in action, as well as those who died from other means while in service. Nearby, a grove of five trees pays tribute to soldiers who committed suicide following their military service.
As families lined up with their yellow roses after the ceremony, Melissa Cabino said she feels relieved that her older brother, Shayne Matthew Cabino — a “larger-than-life,” “fun-loving kid” — will not be forgotten. The 19-year-old Marine lance corporal was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005, according to a Fallen Heroes Memorial page.
“They’re not just [names] on a moment,” said Cabino, 28, of Canton. “There are families behind each name.”
The ceremony was attended by more than a hundred people, including Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. Speakers included Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Representative Stephen Lynch.
During the keynote speech, Gregory Kelly, an Army combat veteran and Massachusetts Fallen Heroes board president, said news had just broken that a 22-year-old Army soldier from Massachusetts was killed in Syria.
“His name was Ranger [Etienne] Murphy,” said Kelly. “He was an American badass.”
Kelly pledged that Massachusetts Fallen Heroes’ support to Murphy’s family and other Gold Star families — even after the spotlight of Memorial Day has dimmed, after the media moves on, after the public’s focus has shifted.
“We can’t do everything, but we will do everything that we can,” he said.
The master sergeant in the airborne 19th Special Forces Group, who was absent from last year’s dedication because he was deployed, described for the Gold Star families the process of bringing a fallen soldier’s body onto a plane. Kelly was stationed at Bagram Airfield, the largest US military base in Afghanistan, according to a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes.
A cargo plane is emptied, then flanked with hundreds of soldiers — everyone on the base who is available, he said.
“We take that flag-draped coffin, and with the utmost dignity and military precision, we march it up onto the plane while the rest of those hundreds of people in formation are saluting,” he said.
Kelly recalled how the bodies of two Green Berets — Army special forces — who had been killed in action in the fall of 2016 were brought onto a plane.
The two soldiers’ entire team had been injured, but they were all there at the bottom of the ramp: dirty, bandaged, on crutches. One was brought via ambulance, sitting up in his stretcher with tubes sticking out of him -- and wearing his green beret, he said.
“You Gold Star families have lost your loved ones, but we have gained them,” said Kelly to the somber audience, wearing his own green beret. “Because of the work of this memorial and this project, future generations will gain them, too.”
Nicole Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.