It takes a special person to serve — that was the message on Memorial Day as the region paused Monday to remember the sacrifices of those who have died while serving in the armed forces.
Respect, integrity, loyalty, moral courage, physical courage, and selflessness make US soldiers and their allies “stand out as special human beings,” Brigadier General Peter O’Halloran, a decorated member of the Irish Army, said during a ceremony at the Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester. “We are the insurance policy for freedom, for democracy, for sovereignty, and to ensure that the rest of our societies enjoy the lands in which we live.”
O’Halloran spoke after about 250 marchers made their way in a misting rain from the John P. McKeon Post AmVets 146 to the cemetery for the annual commemoration. O’Halloran’s local connection comes through his brother, who is a bartender at the Eire Pub in Dorchester.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh called Memorial Day a “sacred day,” noting that the service is “the largest in Boston and one of Dorchester’s most beloved traditions.”
After the ceremony, Walsh said the political climate should not change how people feel about Memorial Day.
“Whatever is going on in Washington, all that stuff that we can talk about, and argue about, and go back-and-forth on, ultimately, people still put their lives on the line for us.”
During his remarks, the mayor took a moment to acknowledge a Massachusetts native, Army Specialist Etienne Jules Murphy, who was killed in a vehicle crash in Syria this past week, as well as a Navy SEAL from Illinois, Chief Special Warfare Officer William ‘‘Ryan’’ Owens, who was killed in combat in Yemen in January.
“He [was] just a regular person,” Walsh said of Owens. “He could have grown up in any neighborhood in Boston, and loved his country and loved his family and loved his service.”
US Representative Stephen F. Lynch voiced not only his appreciation for military members but also his concern for them. He cited the high reports of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among troops, and said that among the 3.5 million people who have served in the Armed Forces since the first Gulf War, 90,000 have served more than four tours.
“They come home with hidden wounds,” Lynch said, urging veterans who need help to seek it.
Lynch told the crowd how his own family has been touched by loss, saying his mother-in-law’s brother was killed in April 1945. She was the one who sign the papers so he could enter the service, Lynch said, a burden his mother-in-law carries every day — except on Memorial Day.
“On this weekend ... she has peace and comfort in her heart because you’re all carrying it with her,” Lynch said. “This is why we do it. We’re doing it for the Gold Star families.”
Terry Boyer, 66, of Dorchester, who served in the Army from 1969-1976 and was stationed in both Germany and South Korea, said Vietnam was his motivation for signing up to do their duty.
“A lot of guys back then were signing up,” Boyer said. “Same way 9/11 here.’’
Monday, Boyer said, was about “paying tribute to the guys who didn’t come home.”
Justin A. Kelley has been coming to the Dorchester Memorial Day celebration since he was a child. Now, 39 and a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Kelley is humbled by the event.
“If you don’t know how to recognize the day, I would just try to explain the Gold Star families and what they’ve lost,” he said at the McKeon Post.Aimee Ortiz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @aimee_ortiz.