FLAGS decorate the graves of veterans at Forest Glade Cemetery. (Mark Sardella Photo)
By NEIL ZOLOT
WAKEFIELD – Three women received the state Medal of Fidelity, a new award to honor the families of deceased service veterans, in a Memorial Day ceremony Monday, May 29 at the Galvin Middle School.
They are Claire Brown, Pam Hart and Kathleen McKenna, widows of Vietnam veterans William Brown, Donald Hart and Harold McKenna, all of whom survived the war but died of war-related issues.
Veterans Advisory Board Chair and event host Paul Cancelliere said the award “recognizes the enormous toll combat can take on veterans and their families.”
“It’s an honor to be here,” McKenna said.
“It’s an honor to be among the first people to get these,” Brown added.
Also attending was World War II and Korean War veteran Paul Fazzina, 95. He was the only World War II veteran there. He enjoyed the ceremony, but confessed some sadness after the loss of his wife Anne the day before.
Recognizing and honoring the role families play in the lives of service members was a national theme for Memorial Day.
“Let us never forget the heroes and the ones they left behind,” Veteran Services Officers David Mangan said in remarks opening the ceremony. “War is tragic and so are its effects on people. What binds us together is all of us have had family members and friends who made the ultimate sacrifice, a sacrifice we should never take for granted. In the words of John Quincy Adams, ‘Freedom, once lost, is lost forever.’ ”
Those attending included Town Councilors Jonathan Chines and Michel McLane and Robert Vincent, and Town Administrator Steve Maio. Speaking on behalf of the Council as chair, Chines mentioned the commitment service members made to the country, often “when the country did not show love to them,” including people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Members of the town’s legislative delegation also attended. “Conditions around the world are reminders how precarious freedom and human rights are,” state Senator Jason Lewis said, alluding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and threats to Taiwan by China. “The freedom we enjoy is a result of sacrifices made in previous generations. We offer our deepest gratitude to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and their loved ones and those who serve around the world.”
“Memorial Day is a day of celebration and grief,” State Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian said. “We remember the loss of life and stories of heroism. I want to underscore the gratitude I feel to those who served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice.”
She also mentioned some accomplishments by the legislature to recognize and assist veterans and their families including creation of a cabinet level position for veterans services “to ensure veterans issues are heard,” establishment of the Medal of Fidelity “awarded to the next of kin of those who died of war related conditions and injuries, including PTSD and exposure to dangerous chemicals.”
“I want to thank Wakefield for all the sacrifices made over the years, especially the families,” State Representative Donald Wong added. “The state delegation here will do whatever we can when you need us.”
Congressman and Marine veteran Seth Moulton was scheduled to attend, but was unable to. His Veterans Liaison Steve Bohm, himself a veteran, said, “Memorial Day is about remembering those who died in combat but we should also remember their families who suffered after their service.”
The keynote speaker of the ceremony was former Veterans Services Officer Andrew Biggio. “Memorial Day is depressing and a celebration at the same time,” he said. “It’s our duty to keep it alive, not just of those from the battlefield who suffered but members of their families.”
He also related stories about meeting a shrinking pool of veterans while writing books about World War II. “When there’s no one left, I want to tell their stories,” he said.
The West Side Social Club continued its tradition of honoring veterans earlier in the day at Moulton Park.
“We honor the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to our freedom,” ceremony host William Bloom III said. “Freedom is the most important facet of our lives. This is a time to reflect on how lucky we are to live in the United States and have the ability to speak in a free country. None of us are entitled to it. It is a gift given by those sacrifices of others. The challenge is not to make just Memorial Day about them, but every day.”
The ceremony took place at Moulton Park adjacent to the club on Harrington Street. It is lined with trees planted in memory of fallen soldiers and others, including causalities of September 11, 2001 and Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. “Every time we add a tree we hope it will be the last one,” Bloom said, “Sadly this will not be the case.”
“I’m grateful for the gift bestowed on us, freedom,” club President Ben Schools added. “I hope we have demonstrated we deserve the gift.”
In remarks on behalf of the town, Town Council chair Jonathan Chines alluded to Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address to the nation in which he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Chines said, “The fallen heroes we honor heeded those words not just by asking what they could do for their country, but by standing up for it. Because they did, we have privileges as citizens of this country.”
He also encouraged citizens to “serve each other in any small way we can.”
Town Councilor and Navy veteran Robert Vincent also attended. “I’m incredibly impressed how Wakefield honors veterans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. He lauded the West Side Social Club as a private club that honors Wakefield service members.
The keynote speaker of the ceremony was Wakefield Veterans Advisory Board Chair Paul Cancelliere. “On Memorial Day I think about soldiers killed in defense of our nation,” he said.
He related stories of fallen soldiers he knew and other cases in which he informed people of the death of a family member. One was Joseph Bellavia, a Wakefield native who died in Iraq in 2003, at age 28. Bellavia’s sister-in-law Alexandra Makarewicz and her son Mak, 7, represented the family, given his parents and widow Christina live out of town.
They were among the “sentries” who placed flowers at the memorial trees in Moulton Field. Makarewicz said Mak was the one who really wanted to do it.