LEXINGTON, Mass. - In a small clearing, near where troops fired the first shots of the American Revolution, 3rd Legal Operations Detachment Soldiers gathered in a circle, bowing their heads in solemn remembrance of Massachusetts service members who died since 9/11.
A backdrop of brightly colored autumn leaves surrounded the New Englanders during the somber October morning. Tears welled up in reddened eyes of many of the ceremony participants.
"We read the names of Soldiers who died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Staff Sgt. Derek Roy, a paralegal specialist from Connecticut. "It was moving, and very real."
The detachment, part of the U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command, has conducted the remembrance ceremony annually for the past seven years, normally held during the battle assembly weekend prior to Veterans Day.
"It's to show that we're grateful for their sacrifice and that their memory is not temporary," Roy said. "It's cemented into our memories."
After reading the names, some Soldiers offered personal memories of those who perished. Lt. Col. Jerry Parisella, an attorney from Beverly, Mass., who also serves as a Massachusetts state representative, helped organize the 3rd LOD's event this year. During the ceremony, Parisella remembered Steven Fortunato, a Soldier from his hometown who died in Iraq. He'll share that with Fortunato's mother, he said.
"We want to tell her that we haven't forgotten the sacrifice of her family," Parisella said.
Since 2001, when the United States first sent troops into Afghanistan, more than 850 service members from Massachusetts have been killed or wounded in action there and in Iraq.
The Soldiers, paralegals and judge advocates, took time to visit Lexington's Minute Man memorial to learn more about the battle on April 19, 1775, that began the long road to America's independence from Great Britain. Then they marched along the battle road, where patriots and red coats came to death grips that fateful day.
Howard Helfman, a former Army infantry officer who fought in Vietnam, told the 3rd LOD Soldiers of the heroism and tragedy that took place nearby.
"I try to get assigned to the military groups who come through," said Helfman, a retired school administrator who's volunteered at the national park for five years. "I find they have empathy for the military on both sides."
As citizen Soldiers, the U.S. Army Reserve judge advocates and paralegals represent the modern-day version of the famed "Minute Men" of the American Revolution, willing and able to answer the nation's call to serve, said Parisella. He has mobilized and deployed to Iraq and Bosnia. The event recognizes the sacrifices Massachusetts patriots made in America's struggle against Great Britain, he said.
"We want to honor our past," Parisella said. "This is our way to honor our fallen comrades, but also for Soldiers in our unit better understand how it all started, here in Massachusetts."
After the march, the 3rd LOD Soldiers took time to meet with groups that support the military and the mother of a fallen Soldier.
"All we really want is for our loved ones to not be forgotten," Karen Lounsbury, a Gold Star Mother, whose son Pfc. Bryan Lounsbury was killed in an accident in 2008. "What you did today really means a lot to us."