News always spreads fast in South Boston, but the news about our World War II Memorial being vandalized spread across the neighborhood and beyond with the speed of light. It was first met with disbelief. Who would do such a thing was the question most asked? Then the anger and sadness set in, as residents made the trek to the beach to see for themselves what every Southie social media site had reported. People took photos and video and shared them with friends and family who then shared them as well. Nearly every major news media outlet in the city picked up on it and they, too, descended on the area to cover the story. The other big question is – WHY?
This past Monday morning residents woke to find the beautiful memorial covered in dark oil. The perpetrators got all the sections and even the benches and plaques surrounding it. It was deliberate, it was no accident. Residents who discovered it immediately called police and our local elected officials also quickly arrived on site. Residents, among them Rob Ryan, Bob Ferrara, Ned Morrissey and others, rushed down, as soon as they got the word, and all joined in and tried to remove the oil, but it was not to be; at least not yet.
It was a thick and greasy substance and it had already seeped into the granite and it was resisting every attempt to clean it with common household and even the industrial cleaner that people were using. Later in the day, equipment such as pressure washers and other machinery was brought in for the job, but still, little progress was being made because the oily substance was so deeply absorbed and resistant. Yet no one on site was willing to give up on the effort. They continued to work for hours in the cleaning attempt.
State Representative David Biele, on the seen for hours, worked in cooperation with State Senator Nick Collins contacting DCR and other state officials to get cleanup crews there as soon as possible. This was clearly a priority to everyone. Congressman Stephen Lynch and City Councilors Ed Flynn, a US Navy veteran himself and City Councilor Mike Flaherty were working as well to bring in resources. The Massachusetts State Police were combing the area looking for any hint or clue that might lead to the identity of who was responsible.
The next day, Tuesday, the effort continued. At 9am, there was a meeting at the location where again, cleanup crews, volunteers, elected officials, the original architect and designer Robert Shurer, state, city and private agencies and throngs of onlookers were set to get back to work. Even the news media returned to report on the progress. It was clear to all by now that it would take professionals with specific equipment to join in if the efforts were to be successful and they too were there.
But then another group arrived that warmed the hearts of everyone on the scene. The K-1 students from the Perry Elementary school and their teachers showed up, carrying and waving American Flags and together with all the adults who were there, recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The students then had a history lesson at the site and were told by their teachers how the people named on the memorial gave their lives to keep our country free. It was impressive and wonderful to watch.
The WWII memorial has been here for nearly 20 years. And though from time to time there has been minor damage caused to it, sometimes by severe weather conditions, other times by careless litterbugs, nothing could compare with what had happed to it last weekend. Getting the monument built took a lot of time, effort, money and a lot of love. A committee was formed by local residents. The efforts included fundraising, bringing in the best landscapers and taking bids from the most reputable designers and builders of such memorials and of course, the finest materials were used in the process to make sure it would and will stand the test of time.
As Tuesday progressed, calls by people from far and wide offering to help in any way they could were coming in. People from as far away as New Hampshire, Maine and even 2 people from Texas called to offer their expertise and support. This story has clearly touched a nerve, as well as people’s hearts and souls.
Everyone wanted to lend a hand. Francisco Urena, Secretary of Veteran’s Services was there as was Tom Butler from Massport, Tom Lyons, who has always been active and in command of veteran’s issues, John ‘Bubba’ Maddox from the MBTA with news that the ‘T’ would be providing special coating for the monument’s surface once it had been restored which would protect it from future vandalism. The ‘T’ might also consider covering all of South Boston’s monuments with the same substance Maddox stated. One observer/volunteer stated that this is becoming almost like a joint effort with near military precision, which would be fitting. Former Mayor Ray Flynn was there helping as was Anthony Gilardi. There seemed to be no end to the folks turning out to help rectify the terrible wrong that had been done.
It was noted by many that the very weekend the monument was defaced, John Mullen, who served in the United States Marine Corps in WW II, part of that ‘Greatest Generation’, had passed away. John Mullen was very instrumental in getting the memorial built and helped oversee the entire process from start to finish. John, with the enormous help of then DCR commissioner David Balfour who pulled out all the stops on behalf of Southie’s veterans, paved the way with permits and assisted with the planning. It’s believed that John Mullen probably didn’t know of what had happened before he passed. It would have greatly saddened him if he did.
Among the ideas being floated to head off any future attempts to vandalize this and our other war memorials are surveillance cameras and increased lighting. Though it’s hoped that an attack like this will never again take place, it’s always best to be prepared. Most people don’t believe that this was a random act of vandalism, nor do some officials. It’s thought to have been a targeted attack directed specifically, because of what the memorial stands for. The consensus all around the community seemed to be that those responsible must be dealt with and dealt with severely. If anyone has any information that might lead to the identities of the vandals who did this, they are asked to call the State Police at 617-740-7710.
This effort will be ongoing and it’s a cooperative effort to be sure by those so hurt and angered by what happened. And as so often happens, no matter how bad an occurrence is, something positive can be found. In response to the outpouring of help and support that this incident brought out, State Representative David Biele put it perfectly when he stated the following“ Whenever the darkness strikes, the light always rises up to meet it.” The spirit of South Bostonians has once again confirmed those sentiments as so many good folks have come together for a common cause.