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Hundreds volunteer to plant flags for the fallen on Boston Common

Hundreds of volunteers plant flags on Boston Common for Memorial Day
There are over 37,000 flags, each representing a Massachusetts military member who died in service since the Revolutionary War. (Mark Gartsbeyn)

With help from hundreds of volunteers, Boston Common has again been transformed into a solemn display of patriotism with small American flags planted for the Memorial Day weekend.

“The way I was treated when I got home, I don’t want another veteran to be treated that way,” said Vietnam veteran Barry Gaynor, 69, of Whitman, explaining why has volunteered for six years to plant the flags.

He was one of more than 700 people who turned out Wednesday to help plant over 37,000 flags in the garden maintained by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund. Each flag represents a Massachusetts service member who died in action since the Revolutionary War.

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An additional 325 flags are expected to be placed Thursday morning in memory of the state’s service members who have died since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The garden near the Soldiers and Sailors Monument will be up until Monday evening.

Veterans and their family members were among those who turned out to plant the flags on sunny afternoon Wednesday.

Volunteers placed flags on Boston Common Wednesday to honor those who died in war.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

“I’ve been reflecting on the friends I lost in the war,” said Dave McNamara, 72, of Medford, who was planting flags for the second year in a row.

He keeps a picture of last year’s flag garden in his wallet to show to other veterans. He plans to take more pictures this year, he said.

“It’s just nice and I can show these pictures over the years to some of the guys with PTSD and try to encourage them,” said McNamara, a native of North Attleborough.

Gloucester resident Dan Leahy, 70, was an army medic for about nine months in 1970 during the Vietnam War. The overwhelming support from the volunteers honoring those who have died is “beautiful,” he said.

“I worked on soldiers and some of them died, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know where they were from. Some of their flags could be out here,” Leahy said.

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Miles Childs of Roslindale planted flags with his nephew, Tyler Cummings, 30, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012. Support for veterans and their families is important, he said.

“It just shows that we’re all on the same team, regardless of your skin color, your politics, your faith, or lack thereof,” said Childs, 53. “It’s really important to show that we’re together on this and that we support our people.”

North Attleborough native Dave McNamara, 72, also fought in the Vietnam War. He enlisted when he was 19 and was there for one year, flying AC-119 and AC-130 gunships.

The war wasn’t his only battle. When McNamara came back to the United States, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, eventually leading to a six-month stint at the Brockton VA Medical Center in 1981.

“It put me back on the road,” McNamara, a current Medford resident, said. Now, he works to help other veterans get through what he struggled with, he said.

“I’ve been reflecting to the friends I lost in the war and since, I carry pictures from last year, and I was about to take more,” McNamara said after planting flags for the second year in a row.

Among the volunteers were politicians and even two New England Patriots players. Rep. Alyson Sullivan, who represents Abington, East Bridgewater, and Whitman, joined in, working to put the flags into the ground.

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Jeffrey Coombs, who died in 9/11, and Marine Sergeant Daniel Vasselian, who was killed in an ambush while on duty in 2013, are both from Abington. Honoring those who have fallen, like Coombs and Vasselian, are the reason why Sullivan said she went on Wednesday.

“It shows we’re still a community and we still respect our armed forces and those who serve and currently serve and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “It is very moving to see the Commonwealth and the communities therein coming together to support those people.”

Gloucester resident Dan Leahy, 70, was an army medic for about nine months in 1970 during the Vietnam War. The overwhelming support from the volunteers honoring those who have died is “beautiful,” he said.

“I worked on soldiers and some of them died, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know where they were from. Some of their flags could be out here,” Leahy said.

Leahy said that when he arrived Wednesday, he paired up with a group of women who had lost their brother during the 9/11 attacks because he was on the 74th floor of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

“That was worse than all of Vietnam,” he said. “The fact that so many people died that day, I couldn’t believe it.”

Miles Childs, 53, went to the planting with his nephew, Tyler Cummings, 30, who fought in the army in the War in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012. The amount of support from those who were placing the flags shows support to the families and the people who fought, he said.

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“It just shows that we’re all on the same team, regardless of your skin color, your politics, your faith, or lack thereof,” Childs, a Roslindale resident, said. “It’s really important to show that we’re together on this and that we support our people.”

Army veteran Gary Yeung from Boston planted flags. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the event on Boston Common.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff
Volunteers planted 37,297 flags Wednesday afternoon.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff
Kelsey Harrington, left, and Tara Howard, both work in the Massachusetts Attorney General's office and took their lunchbreak to volunteer. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff
UMass Boston student Dave Connelly from Weymouth carried flags that he was planting.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff
Shelly Whitney from Braintree, left, handed a flag to her daughter Josephine, 12, as she planted flags with her friend, Timothy Sullivan, 12, from Avon.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch.