Combat vets lead push for Iraq/Afghan memorial, revived Neponset post

Greg Kelly and Dan Magoon: Leading the charge for Boston war memorial, taking charge at Neponset post. Photo by Bill ForryGreg Kelly and Dan Magoon: Leading the charge for Boston war memorial, taking charge at Neponset post. Photo by Bill ForryDan Magoon and Greg Kelly, combat veterans and Boston firefighters who live in Dorchester, are leading the charge to build a memorial to the men and women from Massachusetts who’ve fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. They have also stepped up to lead the Neponset VFW Post next to Garvey Park, hoping to make the post a destination once again for a new column of returning servicemen and women.

Magoon, 30, is a South Boston native who settled in Dorchester five years ago after returning from his third tour of duty as an Army sergeant in the war zone. He and his wife are raising a young child in the neighborhood and he works out of the Uphams Corner station house on Columbia Road.

Kelly, 36, has served in the Marines and in the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan, including a tour that took him away from home for most of 2011. A Neponset native who was schooled at St. Ann’s, he is a lieutenant in the BFD and works out of Engine 28 in Jamaica Plain. Kelly, who has been on active duty since graduating from Dominic Savio High School, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Memorial Day observances in Cedar Grove Cemetery.

Both men have been struck by the obvious need to assist many of their fellow vets in accessing services and benefits promised by the government. They are also intent on memorializing their Bay State comrades who did not return from the wars.

“The soldiers and servicemen and women have a set a great example for us,” says Kelly. “They volunteered in a time of war and they lost their lives doing it. That example of selflessness is something that every Bay Stater should feel obligated to help us honor.”

In 2010, Magoon and Kelly were among a core group of combat vets and Gold Star families who launched the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial, which Magoon now heads up from office space above Blasi’s restaurant in Adams Corner. The mission of the group is to build a permanent memorial in Boston’s downtown area to the men and women from Massachusetts who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization’s inaugural fundraiser in December 2010, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, raised more than $250,000 for the cause— and more funds were added at an even bigger dinner last year. The organization expects to gather more funding this September, with an inaugural golf tournament that will advance its third annual dinner at the BCEC in December.

“We want this to set the standard for the country,” said Magoon, who hopes that the ultimate site of the memorial will be in a prominent public space in the center of Boston. The group has scoped out possible sites on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, although no commitment has been made from the conservancy that controls the land. Magoon, however, notes that Mayor Thomas Menino, who has pledged to support their efforts, spoke supportively at the Memorial’s last large Boston fundraiser.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” says Magoon. “But the mayor has been great; he’s 100 percent behind us. Everyone wants this to happen. What we hear, especially from the Gold Star families, is that they want this be in the capital city, where it will be easy to get to and a destination for visitors. That’s why the Greenway is our hope.”

Magoon and other members of the Memorial committee spend much of their time reaching out to families of the fallen, enlisting their help and vision for what will eventually be built to honor their loved ones.

“It’s going to be their input that decides what this will be,” says Magoon, who says that a statewide design competition will be held once a definite location for the memorial is secured. “We want to really be innovative, using technology like touch-screen kiosks that can help us tell each soldier’s story with photos and video.”

As the momentum mounts for the memorial, Magoon and Kelly— who serves as the organization’s vice-president— have made it a point to keep Dorchester’s veteran community front and center in their day-to-day work. Their focal point has become the Neponset Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #5834, a small building nestled on a lot next to Garvey Park on Neponset Avenue.

The post, which might have gone completely out of service in recent years if not for the work of a handful of vets and non-veteran volunteers, is now getting a thorough clean-up, thanks to Magoon, Kelly and a growing band of young vets.

“There’s been such a void in the community in terms of active vets,” said Magoon, who is now the post’s commander. “Jimmy Duchaney, Peter Carver, and Phil Carver kept it going and did a great job. We’ve rallied the troops to keep its charter going and we still have a lot of work to do on the building. But the guys are coming down again and helping to throw paint on the walls. We’re planning to use it on Memorial Day after the parade to have a barbeque. Our feeling is that if this post dies off, the generation that built it dies off in a way. And we don’t want to let that happen.”

Greg Kelly thinks that the younger generation of vets returning to Neponset and other neighborhoods around Dorchester will gravitate to the post again to re-connect with friends and to help advocate for fellow vets.

“Before, Dorchester was saturated with veterans, like after World War II. Maybe it’s even more important to keep a place like this going now that there are fewer of us. We need to be able to support each other.”

“This is going to be a military operation again,” Kelly said, referring to the VFW’s leadership. “When veterans learn about some of the things we’re involved with, they’ll want to be involved, too. We tell them, ‘Listen, the mission’s not over. We all need to be fully involved in the local posts, if only to memorialize our fellow Bay Staters.’ ”

More on the mission of the Mass Fallen Heroes Memorial can be found at massfallenheroes.org. If anyone would like to assist the Neponset VFW Post in its efforts to beautify the post in time for Memorial Day, please contact Dan Magoon at neponsetvfw@gmail.com. Veterans are encouraged to join. They can send an e-mail or visit the post at 362 Neponset Ave. with copy of DD214 to join.