Aside from Dorchester Day— the day-long celebration of our settlement town-turned-neighborhood that falls on June 5 this year — there is no local event that rivals Memorial Day in our community.
The day itself is, of course, a national holiday, replete with a televised concert on the Mall in Washington, solemn ceremonies and salutes in Arlington National Cemetery and, of course, barbeques and baseball games.
But in Dorchester, Memorial Day means Cedar Grove Cemetery and a time-honored ceremony in which neighbors old and new gather by the hundreds to remember the men and women who lived and died before our time— as well as peers who left us too early— all in the name of defending our liberties at home.
A parade starts at 10 a.m. from the McKeon Post on Hilltop Street and follows a now-shortened path to the bucolic burial ground by the banks of the Neponset where so many of us have laid our loved ones to rest. It’s a special, hallowed place, for nearly everyone who gathers here has a connection to the cemetery or to a name engraved nearby.
Monday’s ceremony itself dates far past living memory, to a time when the men of the Union’s Grand Army of the Potomac marched through the Adams Street gates to a plot consecrated for their fallen comrades in the waning years of the turbulent 1860s. On Monday, their descendants — in the form of present-day veterans— will gather around the statue of Benjamin Stone, Jr., a Dorchester man who led Company K of the 11th Massachusetts Regiment in the Army of the Potomac into battle against the Confederacy. The 43-year-old captain was killed in the Second Battle of Bull Run and later buried in Cedar Grove alongside many of his men who had died on the battlefields of the South.
Then, with the neighborhood’s remaining veterans assembled on an expanse of grass before a reviewing stand, post adjutants will call out the names of the those who have died in the past year. Each year, it seems, the call of names grows longer.
This year, a native son will be at the cemetery to deliver keynote remarks in front of his neighbors on a stage filled with elected officials. U.S. Maring Staff Sgt. Terrence Shane Burke, who lost part of his leg when a roadside bomb detonated next to his Humvee in Falljuah, Iraq, in 2006, will speak on behalf of a new generation of Dorchester servicemen and women who have put themselves in harm’s way for us.
Following the observances at Cedar Grove, many veterans and family members will proceed to the Dorchester Vietnam Memorial on Morrissey Boulevard. A traditional service will be held there at approximately 1 p.m.
These ceremonies are an essential part of who we are as a people. It’s easy for us to take them for granted— and to think that somehow they will continue in perpetuity and spring from the ground like the colorful buds that will adorn Cedar Grove that day. But, like Dorchester Day, many hands have worked quietly for many weeks and months to ensure that Monday’s observances take place without a hitch. We thank those volunteers now for their service to our hometown and for making Memorial Day the very special day it is for all of us here.
– Bill Forry