A symbolic moment for families of fallen veterans

Flags planted at state’s national cemetery after 4-year effort

Airman First Class Wesley Golanoski placed flags at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. The policy against placing flags at graves was changed after Paul Monti, who lost his son, fought to do so. Airman First Class Wesley Golanoski placed flags at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. The policy against placing flags at graves was changed after Paul Monti, who lost his son, fought to do so. (Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff)
By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / May 29, 2011

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BOURNE — Alexander Arredondo’s son gave his life for a country that his immigrant father now calls his own. Cynthia DesLauriers was driven by a mother’s pride and a desire to remember forever one young man’s service. Jesse Palmieri’s parents, in matching Marine Corps T-shirts, came yesterday to honor their son who serves.

And for Paul Monti, yesterday marked the end of a four-year battle for the right to make a small gesture of patriotism — the planting of a flag — at the Bay State’s only national grave site, a practice that had been barred at Massachusetts National Cemetery since its opening 30 years ago. Monti’s son, Jared, was slain in combat in Afghanistan in 2006 and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2009.

“This is for all the veterans, not just my son,’’ said Monti, in a brief and solemn ceremony, before hundreds took bundles of banners and roamed the sprawling tract in search of headstones in need of a flag. “Please honor them.’’

More than 1,500 volunteered to support Monti, Arredondo, DesLauriers, and countless others who have lost loved ones in American conflicts or have relatives serving in the military, by the estimate of a state trooper at the cemetery. In their honor, 56,000 grave markers were adorned with the Stars and Stripes.

Eventually, in row after row, on rolling hillsides, flags fluttered in the breeze.

“When I came here, it was shocking that there were no flags,’’ said Monti, who buried his son, Sergeant Jared C. Monti, at the Bourne site in 2006. Cemetery personnel said that a flag- lined driveway leading to the heart of the burial complex was “sufficient,’’ he said.

“Something had to be done,’’ Monti said. The effort that followed culminated in yesterday’s ceremony at the 749-acre cemetery. The flags will be there until June 4, when they will have to be taken down.

Victor Palmieri and his wife, Chris Altieri, whose T-shirts proclaimed their son a Marine, arrived early and planted scores of flags, but the first was for their son, Jesse, who is training to enter a Marine Corps special forces unit, the couple said.

“We did one for him, and a couple hundred others,’’ Victor Palmieri said.

“The act in which we’re participating in today, simple and basic in action, [is] profound in meaning,’’ said Representative William Keating, during brief remarks. The Cape Cod Democrat thanked Monti for teaching the lesson of remembrance, a message echoed by many who lost sons, daughters, or other relatives.

“Sometimes you feel . . . like everyone’s forgot,’’ said DesLauriers, 58, of Eastham, whose son, Army Sergeant Mark R. Vecchione, was killed in action July 18, 2006.

DesLauriers still struggles with the grief, she said, that sometimes hits hardest at night, when something as small as a song on the radio can crack the veneer of her “new normal’’ and stir emotions she usually keeps in check, she said.

“People don’t know how to approach you and say ‘I’m sorry,’ ’’ said DesLauriers, who wore a red T-shirt identifying her as a Gold Star mother, part of an effort by some military families who lost relatives and now oppose violent conflict. The Department of Defense lists the number of American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan as 5,883 as of Friday.

“They wait for you to get over it. We try to move on, but you never ‘get over it,’ ’’ she said.

Families grieve in different ways, DesLauriers said, a sentiment perhaps most dramatically exemplified by Carlos Arredondo. He learned of his 20-year-old son’s death on his birthday, Aug. 25, 2004, he said.

“I was expecting a phone call from him to say happy birthday,’’ said Arredondo.

However, the message he received was from an Army chaplain, who said that his son, Lance Corporal Alexander Scott Arredondo, had been killed.

Wrenched by the news of the death, the distraught father took a 5-gallon can of gasoline and set ablaze an Army van and himself at his home in Hollywood, Fla., where he lived at the time.

Arredondo was left with second- and third-degree burns over much of his body, he said. In all, he said the military had to send three delegations of officers to notify him of his son’s death because he refused to accept it.

“Your mind plays games with you,’’ said Arredondo, who laid down a pair of his son’s boots under a small tree during yesterday’s ceremony in memorial.

In 2006, he became the first parent of a soldier killed in action in the recent conflicts to be granted citizenship, a fact that he cherishes, especially after his son paid such a price for their country, he said. (Carlos Arredondo also legally changed his first and middle names to Alexander Brian Arredondo, after the names of his two sons.)

“As a citizen, for me, to have an opportunity to participate is an honor,’’ he said of the flag-planting, which he also saw as a father’s responsibility to his son.

“I am grateful to be able to do it,’’ Arredondo said.

Byrne can be reached at