Memorial Day: A Time to Remember and Honor Lives Well Lived

By Alma Hart

Editor’s Note: As the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Project began its 10-day observance of Patriots’ Week, from Friday, May 20 through Memorial Day on May 30, Gold Star Mother Alma Hart of Bedford spoke with Junior ROTC cadets at Bedford High School. She spoke about her son, PFC John Hart, and other young men with close Bedford connections who have been lost to war. At the end of Hart’s  talk, the cadets shared some thoughts about the program and its importance in their lives. They spoke of their growing leadership skills as a rite of passage, a first step into adulthood; the ability to “give back to the community” through service in Color Guards and Honor Guards at local events; and continuing a legacy of service to their country. Hart will miss Bedford’s Memorial Day observation this year; she has been asked to speak at Boston’s ceremony, alongside Mayor Martin Walsh.

The Bedford Citizen thanks Alma Hart for sharing her remarks with our readers:


Alma Hart, speaking to Bedford High School's Jr. ROTC cadets in preparation for Memorial Day, 2016 - Image (c) JMcCT, 20166 all rights reserved
Alma Hart, speaking to Bedford High School’s Jr. ROTC cadets in preparation for Memorial Day, 2016 – Image (c) JMcCT, 20166 all rights reserved

Every year we plant 37,000 flags on Boston Common to represent every brave Massachusetts service members who gave their life defending our country since the Revolutionary War. It’s breathtaking and heart-rending, seeing all those flags waving in the breeze. Each one honors a life well lived.

To me Memorial Day is for remembering our friends and family whom we have lost in the wars. That doesn’t mean I haven’t also eaten a lot of backyard hamburgers. The best memories don’t spring from ceremonies, but from the simple joys of life.

Remembering Five Bedford Soldiers Lost in Iraq and Viet Nam

PFC John Hart, Bedford High Class of 2002, was Co-Captain of the Rifle Team, Captain of the JV Lacrosse team and an officer in the Jr. ROTC. He taught preschoolers swimming at Springs Brook Park. I didn’t think he was mean enough for the Army. He enlisted to serve his country in what we all thought was a just cause. On a dark night, he was the machine gunner on an unarmored HUMVEE at the rear of a convoy ambushed on a lonely road. My fair-haired, broad shouldered boy stood up and defended his wounded buddies. When he ran out of bullets he was shot in the neck and killed. He was decorated with a Bronze Star for Bravery.

LCPL Travis Desiato, Class of 2003, played Varsity Football and Baseball. He spent his summers as a Counselor at the Bedford Day Camp. He enlisted in the Marines and in November 2004 during in the battle of Fallujah, kicked in a door and found himself outgunned by fanatics who had built a bunker inside. His fellow Marines fought valiantly for hours to rescue him, and, finally, just to bring his body home.

1st Lt Robson Wills, Class of 64, a Hanscom kid, was Valedictorian and wrote for the school newspaper. He is remembered for his intelligence, dry wit and love of science fiction. He joined ROTC in college, was drafted into the Army and killed in action in South Vietnam in September of 1969.

1st Lt Terry Reed, Class of 63, made varsity in football, basketball, baseball and track. He was on the Prom committee, and in the Drama and Glee clubs. After ROTC in college, he enlisted in the Air Force to become a pilot. His C-130 crashed in June of 1969 in South Vietnam, and 30 years passed before his remains were recovered.

Bedford has one more Hanscom kid who became a Vietnam hero. PFC Dennis O’Neill, who died in February 1966, in South Vietnam was the son of the Hanscom commander Lt. Gen. John William O’Neill. Dennis went to private school, not Bedford High. His brother fondly remembers them hanging at Bedford Farms to meet girls. Dennis floundered in college and his father advised him to enlist while he found himself. He was KIA (killed in action) within 30 day of arriving in Vietnam. He was decorated with a Bronze Star for Bravery.

The Romance and Reality of War

I think dying in battle has always been too romanticized. There are legends from Ancient Rome up through the Napoleonic Wars that bright red poppies sprang forth in battlefields proving that heroic blood never dies. [Their abundance] appears magical, but it is actually the result of the soil being churned up releasing the dormant seeds, and the effect of gunpowder used in modern warfare making the soil acidic. The perfect condition for poppies to spring up everywhere.

In 1914, John McCrae, a Canadian Medical officer serving in France, described the poppies humbly in a poem in his dispatch book:

                          In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
                         Between the crosses, row on row

Today, with cameras and satellites, it is easy for the families at home to see the reality of the small tragedies that battle brings about.

Right now, a lot of you are thinking that maybe you’re not cut out for that. Keep in mind that Military Service is only one way you can do your duty to your family and country. There will always be a lot of hard work for each of us to do.

In 1910, before the Great War, Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the Sorbonne in Paris about Citizenship in a Republic. As you all look forward to making choices for your own lives, I want to leave his words with you.

“It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”


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