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Finneran: Memorial Day, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018


Do we even know what this weekend is about? Its significance in our nation’s history? Do we care?

Memorial Day is upon us once again. New Hampshire cabins will be opened up. Cape Cod cottages will be aired out. It’s the unofficial start of our summer season.

There will be lots of cookouts on back decks and around swimming pools. And some communities will coordinate with their local veterans’ posts in holding Memorial Day exercises. Thank heavens for those communities, those that keep faith with their fallen sons and daughters.

While my father served in World war II (as an Army Sergeant in the China-Burma-India theater), he was not active in veterans’ posts’ events. My schooling on those matters, and particularly on the importance of Memorial Day, came from Congressman Brian Donnelly and State Senator Joe Walsh. These two gents were loved and respected as hard-working blue-collar pols in the tradition of Harry Truman.

Senator Walsh’s annual effort around Memorial Day was to decorate the veterans’ graves in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester Lower Mills. There are hundreds of veterans’ graves there, some going back as far as the Civil War. It was a monumental task to place flags and flowers at those graves, yet each year Senator Walsh approached the task with buoyancy and zeal. He coordinated and led a group of volunteers, many stooped in pain from their own military service. He never failed to make the families of those mourned veterans feel a justifiable pride in the freedoms their sons and daughters had won for us, so sadly paid for with their lives.

Congressman Donnelly showed an equivalent respect for the sacrifices of veterans and their families. He would always remind the younger generations that Memorial Day is “not just another three-day weekend”. He would lead the local parade—an appropriately somber affair—down Dorchester Avenue and Gallivan Boulevard to the Cedar Grove Cemetery, where military bands had gathered, and military leaders would offer remarks on service to the nation. The Congressman would always recognize and console the local Gold Star Mothers who had lost a son in battle. Their grief was great, and Brian’s kindness was a tonic to their spirits. More often than not, Brian had secured the military marching bands as well as a commanding general or admiral, in order to emphasize the gravity of the occasion.

Finally, after these morning exercises, the Senator and the Congressman would visit every local veterans’ post to thank the individual members for their service and for their participation in the day’s events.

Such was Memorial Day in Dorchester and Mattapan. Such was Memorial Day in the old days.

Today, after seventeen years of war in Afghanistan, I’m concerned. Seventeen years!

I’m concerned about the very few who serve, while the great majority of us remain ignorant of and indifferent to the sacrifices of their families. When President Bush the younger told us to “go shopping” in the aftermath of our invasion of Afghanistan he did the nation a great dis-service. It’s a fake war for us, with little or no sacrifice. Yet it’s a very real and dangerous war for the soldiers who have been deployed for three or four successive tours. Ask their families, ask their lonely and worried spouses, and ask their anxious sons and daughters.

It will also prove to be a very real and very costly war for our children, for that’s what happens when you pay for war on a credit card.

And so, we approach Memorial Day, 2018. I hope that on Monday, you can take a moment to say “thank you”, or offer a prayer, or visit a grave. I hope that you can explain to your children that the nation’s heroes are not in Hollywood or on television. I hope that you can explain to them that the nation’s heroes are buried in graves all across the land and all around the world, and that those heroes died so that we may live.

Carpe diem.  Memorial Day, 2018.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio


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