Americans should “be concerned” by “the chaos that we’re seeing” after John Bolton’s departure last week as national security adviser, former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly told reporters Sunday after a rededication ceremony for the the South Boston Vietnam Memorial.
But the nation remains safe, Kelly said, because its service members are “the best this country produces.”
“I look forward to it settling down — if it settles down,” the retired Marine general said of the ongoing West Wing drama, as Bolton became President Trump’s third national security adviser to depart, and one of dozens of top aides who have quit or been fired.
The Brighton native, 69, spoke to reporters at Medal of Honor Park, home to the monument to the 25 men from the neighborhood who lost their lives in that war.
Kelly, who gave the ceremony’s keynote address, along with others, spoke passionately of the bravery and sacrifice of the armed forces.
“From a national security point of view, as long as we have the kind of men and women in uniform — as represented by those 25 men that gave their lives — as long as we have them, we’re in really good shape,” Kelly, whose son Robert, a Marine lieutenant, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010, told reporters.
“They can take bad policy, or good policy — or no policy — and they can make it work,” Kelly said. “Americans should never, ever, ever fear for their safety, because the people playing the away game — soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard — are the best this country produces.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, in a speech to the crowd of more than 200, said the monument, believed to be the nation’s first memorial to Vietnam veterans, has “become a place of healing, reflection, and gratitude for so many people in this community and the entire city of Boston.”
Walsh reflected on the youth of the men named on the monument.
“Each and every one of them paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms in a land far from Southie,” he said. “It’s a tremendous loss . . . that the community still feels today.”
Governor Charlie Baker, who was praised by organizer Thomas J. Lyons, a Vietnam veteran, as “the first and only governor to ever grace us with his presence,” said the memorial had helped change the perception of veterans of the unpopular war.
Baker paraphrased a passage from the book “Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation,” saying, “Above all, the Vietnam War asked everything of a few and nothing of most in America.” But returning service members, he said, too often “were either ignored or demeaned for their service.”
That wasn’t the case in South Boston, according to Vietnam veteran Edmund Powers, 75, a lifelong resident who said he has been at this ceremony each year since the beginning.
“South Boston is not like any other community. They’re definitely pro-military,” he said, adding later, “The community . . . always backed us up, never mistreated us. And that was a big difference from every place else.”
The ceremony included a reading of the names on the monument and the placement of a red rose for each man at its foot, as well as wreaths honoring veterans’ sacrifices.
Kevin Sullivan, 65, of Milton, whose brother Edward M. Sullivan was a Marine private first class killed at 19 in 1968 and honored on the memorial, placed a wreath with his sister, Audrey Kenneally.
“We started this 38 years ago with my parents here as a Gold Star family,” he said. “Everybody’s long gone now, but we still come here every year, and we wouldn’t miss it. . . . It’s really the South Boston community. They never forget, and I’m proud to be born and raised here, proud to be associated with this group of people.”