Against the backdrop of 20,000 small American flags placed on a hill that rose to meet the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Boston Common, a succession of speakers walked to the podium May 26 and read the names of 143 Massachusetts service members who had fallen in defense of their country since Sept. 11, 2001.

As each speaker " including Brig. Gen. John J. McGuiness, Natick Soldier Systems Center senior commander " read a handful of names, Gold Star Families and friends added flags to those already waving in a warm spring breeze.

“We stand here amidst 20,000 American flags planted to honor each of the sons and daughters of Massachusetts who fell in service to our country from World War I until just last month,” said Stephen Kerrigan, president of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund. “We praise them for the way they lived and their bravery in the way they died.”

The Memorial Day ceremony, presented by the fund, began with the National Anthem and concluded with the playing of Taps. In between, speakers reminded all in attendance that the freedoms they enjoy each day were ensured by those who had given their lives defending them.

“The Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, by this extraordinary silent display, has … reminded us that freedom comes with a price and that there are those ordinary men and women " family members, neighbors, fellow citizens " who set aside what they are doing, and sometimes their own lives, for the rest of us,” said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. “And I thank you all for that.”

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino pointed out that Boston Common provided the ideal spot for the flag display.

“It’s the people of Boston who helped start the American Revolution,” Menino said. “They fought for liberty, freedom and opportunity. Let’s go forth to honor our veterans and their sacrifices not just today, but every day.”

Alma Hart knows about that sacrifice. Her son, Army Pfc. John Hart of Bedford, Mass., died Oct. 18, 2003, in Iraq.

“Let us remember that each of these flags represents a life well lived,” Hart said. “I look at them and remember the beauty of a child’s smile and a young man’s dreams.”

Christie Coombs, whose husband, Jeffrey Coombs, died in the attacks of 9/11, spoke of that fateful day in American history.

“All of this, you could say, is a direct and somewhat of an indirect result of what happened to our country ten years ago, when we were stricken with the most despicable act of hatred our country has ever seen,” Coombs said. “Those attacks of 9/11 jolted our country into war.

“As we began to lose some of our heroes who were fighting for our freedom and security, as thousands have before them, a special bond formed between the 9/11 families and the Gold Star Families. We understand each other’s pain, and we feel a debt of gratitude to the families of these service members, and, of course, to the service members themselves.”

Page last updated Tue May 31st, 2011 at 08:19