Honoring Veterans Who Made The Ultimate Sacrifice

May 24, 2024
• Needham will pay tribute to the service members who lost their lives, with events across town for Memorial Day on Monday.

The day begins at the Public Safety Building at 8:15 a.m., where Needham Police and Fire chiefs will share remarks before a gathering at St. Mary’s Cemetery at 9 a.m. Another ceremony will take place at the Vietnam Memorial at Cefalo Circle at 9:45 a.m. and at Needham Cemetery at 10 a.m., followed by one on the Town Common at 11:15 a.m. and a walk to Memorial Park for a final, longer ceremony at 11:45 a.m.

Needham is home to veterans from every war over the last eight decades — from World War II to the Vietnam War to Operation Desert Storm to deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Tom Keating, the chaplain of Needham’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2498. As chaplain, Keating visits his sick comrades and prays at their burials, and he also helps their loved ones through the funeral process.

The names of about 170 Needhamites grace the Fallen Brave monument at Memorial Park, which includes Revolutionary War fighters, Keating said. Back at Lexington and Concord, which marks the start of the American Revolution, five Needham minutemen died in battle. In other words, “we’re a tough little town,” Keating said.

“It’s quite a tribute to this town to see that many who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Keating, who served as a noncombatant in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, “but that’s what this weekend’s for. It’s Memorial Day.”

At both St. Mary’s Cemetery and Needham Cemetery, American flags mark veterans’ graves, and in preparing for Memorial Day, Jason Kravetz, members of the Boy Scouts and other Needham residents plant new flags and properly dispose of the old ones. They replaced 3,250 flags this year, Kravetz said.

It’s part of Kravetz’s responsibility as the caretaker of veterans’ graves, and he also coordinates ceremonies for both Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the biggest of the two, he said.

The holiday is an “incredibly somber” one for Kravetz and other veterans, he said.

“We all stop for a second, for a day, and just think about that sacrifice,” he said.

As the day progresses, more Needham residents attend the commemorations, Kravetz said. The ceremony at Memorial Park begins with a U.S. Coast Guard flyover and concludes with a luncheon at the VFW for all to attend, Kravetz said. He himself is a Coast Guard veteran, serving 20 years before retiring as a lieutenant commander in 2022.

Unlike Veterans Day, when you thank someone who served, Memorial Day is “when we remember the fallen,” Kravetz said.

“That is humbling and incredibly meaningful to me as a veteran,” Kravetz said, “to live in a town that takes that so seriously and really does the best that they can to honor those veterans who are no longer with us.”

When he joined the local VFW chapter in the 1990s, Keating was one of the younger guys, he said, but the group has since been joined by new members starting their families in town. As time went on, perceptions around Vietnam veterans also changed, Keating said — Needham’s Vietnam War memorial was one of the first in the country, built in 1984 at a time when Vietnam veterans still faced lingering discrimination and hostility.

On Monday, Keating said he’ll be thinking of two friends he met in the service who died in combat: Maurice Sirois and Mark Preis.

“I’ll be up there this weekend, walking around with my veterans hat on, and people will say, ‘Oh, thank you for your service,’” Keating said. “And I’ll say, ‘You’re welcome, but we’re really here for those people that are on that monument.’”

For Kravetz, Lieutenant Murray Archambault will be in his thoughts and prayers all day. He and Archambault were roommates overseas during their deployment. After returning home, Archambault fell victim to suicide, Kravetz said.

“It’s not just the losses that we have in the field of battle, but it’s the losses when we get home,” Kravetz said.

The Needham Channel will provide coverage of the Memorial Park ceremony and will feature the event on The Needham Channel News on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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