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Fallen Vietnam veterans are remembered at South Boston memorial

Vietnam veterans encircled the South Boston Vietnam Memorial on Sunday to remember their fallen comrades during the annual rededication ceremony at Medal of Honor Park.
Vietnam veterans encircled the South Boston Vietnam Memorial on Sunday to remember their fallen comrades during the annual rededication ceremony at Medal of Honor Park.Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe

In Vietnam, he knew the Marine only as “Turner.”

Jack Cassidy, 72, who served in war as a Navy corpsman and was known as “Doc,” never forgot that name. He was there when Lance Corporal Donald J. Turner was killed.

Turner’s name is one of 25 etched into the South Boston Vietnam Memorial. He was one of six friends who joined the military together from South Boston, and one of three who did not return.

“It was a brotherhood,” Cassidy said. “It still is. It always is.”

Cassidy, who was attached to the Marine Corps in Vietnam, returned from service plagued by his memories of the war — until he found some healing in sharing.


He came across Turner’s name while visiting the South Boston memorial several years ago.

A longtime friend of his, Paul Doyle, arranged a meeting between Cassidy, Turner’s widow, and the son Turner never met. Donald J. Turner Jr. was 1 month old when his father died.

“I walked into the restaurant to have lunch and I saw his son, Donald Jr., sitting there and I started to cry,” Cassidy said. “I looked at his face and I said, ‘That’s Donald. He looks like his dad.’ And I was able to tell his son how his father died.”

Nearly every year since that day, Cassidy reunites with Donald Turner Jr., now 49, and his mother, Donna Cashins, 69, at the annual rededication of the South Boston Vietnam Memorial, which was held Sunday. The event is in its 37th consecutive year.

After the ceremony, they looked at old pictures of Donald Turner Sr.

“I think it’s nice for [Don Jr.] to come back and meet all of big Donnie’s friends,” Cashins said. “I think it’s a wonderful experience because we had such a good camaraderie when we were growing up.”


Turner would be point man at the head of a line in Vietnam when he didn’t have to, Cassidy said. He didn’t want anyone inexperienced to take that position. That’s what he was doing when he was killed.

“His father died a hero,” Cassidy said. “I wanted him to know that somebody was with him, a friend.”

Earlier, Sunday morning, veterans and their families gathered at St. Brigid Church for a memorial Mass and then crossed the street for the rededication of the memorial in Medal of Honor Park. The ceremony also honored the late Senator John McCain.

“The country, but especially Vietnam veterans lost a wonderful champion on their behalf,” said US Representative Stephen Lynch of McCain.

City and state leaders attended including Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and the keynote address was delivered by Air Force General Joseph L. Lengyel.

“That decision that the folks here in this community made to create this memorial, which as far as I can tell was the first to honor those who served and sacrificed in Vietnam, was that proverbial pebble in the ocean,” Baker said. “It was from there that the ripple to separate the person from the conflict first began. . . . I’m so grateful to the folks who stepped up 37 years ago at a time when it wasn’t popular to do so and said these were people, these were our friends.”

Tommy Lyons, a Vietnam veteran and chairman of the South Boston Vietnam Memorial Committee, has attended every rededication since he and four others got together nearly 40 years ago to raise the money for the memorial and organize the first event.


He said he thinks of those 25 names every single day.

“For it is us who have been charged with the awesome responsibility of giving meaning and, yes, even life to the ultimate sacrifice they made on our behalf,” Lyons said.

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.