The real meaning of Memorial Day could be heard in the quavering voices of the mothers, fathers, and spouses who read the names of the 296 military men and women who died in connection with their service since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In personal terms that pierce the heart, some identified their own loved ones among the fallen.
My boy. My husband. Our son. Our daughter.
As the names were read at Thursday’s ceremony, a flag was planted in their honor. These flags joined the expansive flag garden already in place, their colors crisp against the green grass of Boston Common. There are 37,268 flags in all, one for every Massachusetts service member who died on active duty since the Revolutionary War.
This is the ninth annual Boston Memorial Day flag garden, which is sponsored by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund. Every flag represents a life lost in connection to service to country. And, as Governor Charlie Baker noted in his remarks, for grieving family members, those flags also represent life before and after the sacrifice of loved ones. For the living, said Baker, there remains a daily personal struggle to put purpose and meaning in life “despite the empty chair at the table.”
The Memorial Day weekend is considered the kickoff to summer fun and relaxation. And as this solemn ceremony unfolded, the promise of the coming season beckoned under the bluest of skies. The carousel on the Common twirled off in the distance. The trill of children’s voices occasionally broke through the speeches and roll call of the fallen.
Life goes on. But as it does, Doris Syrakos, a Gold Star mother from Lynn, wants you to remember her son, Specialist Antonio J. Syrakos, who died in January 2013 at age 22. He was born in Paraguay and adopted at age 3 by the Syrakos family. He enlisted in the Army at 19 and only told her afterwards. He served in Afghanistan and survived all the dangers there. Two months shy of his discharge, he died in an accident at an Army base in Kentucky. This is her second year attending the flag garden ceremony.
She sees it as an opportunity to educate people about sacrifice. Until a family member enters the military, “You don’t have a clue. You don’t know what that means,” said Syrakos.
All that crisp red, white, and blue stretched out on a grassy hill. It’s a haunting lesson in the true consequences of war — one that should never be lost in the joy of welcoming summer.