Memorial Day document readingEzinne Onyemah read documents in Town Hall on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27. photos by Phoebe Mabuchi

UPDATED May 30: About 50 people came Monday to the Robbins Memorial Town Hall Auditorium to honor and remember U.S. service members who lost their lives in war. They later walked across the Town Hall Garden to the Old Burying Ground to watch the decoration of memorial sites, followed by a procession to Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

The theme of the morning was remembering – and telling the stories that need to be told.

The event was led by Col. Philip McGovern, Arlington’s director of veterans services since November.

The Boston Skyline Chorus sang patriotic songs; public officials delivered remarks. Longtime local resident and respected volunteer Bill Hayner, now a member of the Arlington Veteran Council, described the organization’s new Oral History Program.

The screen displayed an image of the Veterans Memorial in front of the Central Fire Station, which commemorates Arlington veterans of every generation. At 9 a.m., McGovern called the assembly to order and called on police and fire honor guards to “present the colors.” Three fire department honor guards and one police officer carried an American flag, a flag with the Arlington logo and a National League of Families POW/MIA flag. The Boston Skyline Chorus, in black shirts, white pants and blue and red scarves, performed the National Anthem as the attendees stood and faced them.

When everyone was seated, the Very Rev. Marc Bishop, pastor of Catholic Parishes of Arlington, led the invocation. He expressed gratitude for the sacrifices made by members of the armed services for the sake of America’s freedom and prayed for “peace, provision, hope and strength” for the families of fallen military members.

AHS student reads proclamation, orderattendees gatherAttendees gather at the Arlington Revolutionary War Monument at the Old Burying Grounds.

Following a longstanding tradition, an Arlington High School student – this year, sophomore Ezinne Onyemah -- read the governor’s proclamation and General Logan’s Order. The proclamation, signed by Gov. Maura Healey, explained that thousands of Massachusetts residents have risked their lives fighting in wars for the safety of Americans. It calls upon commonwealth residents to recognize the holiday and honor the bravery of those who gave their lives for freedom. The order was given May 5, 1868, in Washington, D.C., by John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in the decades that followed the Civil War and calls for a day to honor and decorate the graves of fallen Civil War comrades.

Stephen W. DeCourcey, chair of the Arlington Select Board, said Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer but concurrently serves as a reminder of the lives lost.“Whether they lay to rest beneath the soil of a distant land or here at home, each of their grave sites marks the resting place of an American hero,” he said.

State Rep. Sean Garballey of the 23rd Middlesex District began by honoring U.S. Air Force veteran Robert Hunter, who died May 14. Garballey, who grew up in Arlington, said he couldn’t remember a previous time when he hadn’t seen Hunter at a Memorial Day ceremony and that therefore Monday was a “very sad moment to remember him.” Hunter was a graduate of Wentworth Institute of Technology, a U.S. Air Force veteran and past commander of the American Legion Post 39 in Arlington.

New effort with ACMi to chronicle veterans

Town Manager Jim Feeney spoke of how he takes pride in being a part of Arlington’s long legacy of honoring those who made the “ultimate sacrifice.” He noted that this legacy can be traced back to 1867, when the name of the town was changed from West Cambridge to Arlington in honor of those buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

mcgovern speaks at old burying groundColonel McGovern speaks at the Old Burying Ground.McGovern called on the chorus to sing “Let Freedom Ring” and then welcomed Hayner, who said Memorial Day is a time to share memories of those who died while serving in the U.S. military -- but that, as time passes, memories risk being lost. To help prevent this , the council recently created an Oral History Program to share stories of local veterans -- those who were lucky enough to make it back Stateside -- willing to participate. Arlington Community Media inc.(ACMi) staff interviews and videotapes veterans about their military experience to create vignettes viewable by the public. So far, three have participated, including Hayner.

Hayner concluded by playing a montage of the three -- all Korean War veterans -- on the screen. The montage included interviews with the three veterans, clips of then-President Harry Truman on the news speaking about the war and concluded with a video of a plane going off into the distance while “Leaving on a Jet Plane” played.

Tales worth telling

McGovern spoke about how the Oral History Program emphasizes the importance of storytelling. He encouraged all local veterans to reflect on their memories and experiences and to consider sharing their stories if they feel comfortable doing so.

Heidi Rosenberg of Arlington said she understands the importance of storytelling and remembering. She was one of two people who brought their children to the event. She explained that she did so because “It’s really important for younger people to witness this and to be a part of hearing and remembering this so that we are able to preserve this for future generations and preserve their memory.”

The ceremony concluded with a benediction from Bishop, the performance of “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and “America the Beautiful” by the chorus and the retiring of the colors by the police and honor guards. McGovern mentioned the Gettysburg Address and how, “As Lincoln challenged that generation, we need to challenge ourselves."Arlingtonians of color were remembered May 27, including some for heroic acts long ago.

A hero hardly known

Those who wished to then walked over to the Old Burying Ground, gravitating to the monument that commemorates Revolutionary War soldiers.

“These people served to establish a foundation on which we could continue to strive, generation after generation,” McGovern said. “It becomes our legacy to continue to build on that.”

He then invited everyone to join him in a procession to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, but, before that, congregants of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington placed three red, white and blue wreaths on three of the memorial sites.

One was placed on the presumed grave of Ishmael, an enslaved person, about whom the Rev. Erica Richmond of Firsh Parish spoke briefly. When the British were coming down the street from Lexington toward Arlington -- at that time called Menotomy -- on April 19, 1775, Ishmael took it upon himself to knock on each door to warn the residents, principally women and children, of the danger.

Richmond said that she considers this to be a “story often untold."

But she believes that, “We here can counter that -- and make sure the stories are told.” More about the hisory of slavery in Massachusetts, which lasted until 1783, can be learned here>>

Watch ACMi video of Memorial Day proceedings of May 27, 2024:

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This report from the field by YourArlington freelancer Phoebe Mabuchi was published early Wednesday, May 29, 2024; it was updated later that day to include a link to the obituary of Arlington resident Robert Hunter and then again to correct the name of the heroic enslaved man of 1775 mentioned in the article. It was updated Thursday, May 30, to include a video of the event from local cable television station ACMi.