Michael Ball and Robert Flynn are like many young men of their generation who hail from Dorchester. Both grew up playing little league baseball in Cedar Grove, hanging out at Toohig Park and going to school at their nearby parish grammar schools (Flynn to St. Brendan’s and Ball to St. Ann’s.)
And both boys have vivid memories of watching the solemn ceremonies on Memorial Day at Cedar Grove Cemetery.
But Ball and Flynn are unlike most of their contemporaries in one very important way. Both young men, upon graduation from high school in 2008, enlisted in the Marine Corps and served their country in war. On Monday, Ball and Flynn— now retired from military service and back home— will address the crowd that assembles at the Cedar Grove Cemetery.
“It’s an honor,” said Ball, 24, who hopes to join the Boston Fire Department in the near future. He served two tours in Afghanistan with the Second Marines. ‘“I have pictures as a little kid with my mother at Cedar Grove, watching the speakers. It’s a privilege to be able to do it,” he said.
Ball, who grew up on Minot Street, was the only graduate of his class from Boston Latin Academy to join the Marine Corps. Flynn, 25, who lives in Adams Village, was one of three graduates from Archbishop Williams High School to immediately join the military. He did a single tour in Afghanistan in 2010 with the First Battalion, Second Marines. He returned to Afghanistan in June 2011 and was wounded by an IED on his first week in country.
“I was glad that I joined the Marine Corps,” said Flynn. “I always wanted to be a Marine and defend our country and I was glad that I could have the opportunity to do it.”
Flynn is now a recruit in the Boston Police Academy. He will graduate on June 18 and become a Boston Police officer. “I am honored to be able to speak on behalf of my brothers and sisters in arms,” said Flynn. “It’s something I can’t describe. I am so honored to be given this opportunity.”
The observances at Cedar Grove Cemetery are among the oldest in the nation— dating back to 1868 when the event was known as Decoration Day, a time for the nation to honor the dead of the Civil War. Grand Army of the Republic veterans from what was then the town of Dorchester began the observances at Cedar Grove, which had just been consecrated.
The modern Memorial Day events at Cedar Grove begin with a wreath-laying at the GAR burial plot, which is dominated by a statue to Captain Benjamin Stone, who led Company K of the 11th Massachusetts regiment. Stone, a music engraver and painter by trade, was killed in the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862.
Over the decades, the columns of veterans have fluctuated in size. A parade of veterans in the aftermath of World Ward II included thousands — and stretched for many city blocks. Recently, the size of the parade that precedes the ceremony has dwindled and the route was shortened and changed several years ago. On Monday, the parade will begin at 10 a.m. from the McKeon Post on Hilltop Street and go directly to Cedar Grove Cemetery, where a formal speaking program will be held.
The parade will include veterans from eight different posts from the neighborhood, including this year’s “host” post, the Old Dorchester Post #65 American Legion, led by Steve Bickerton, Sr. The parade will include the Boston Parade Gaelic Column, Greater Boston Firefighter’s Pipes and Drums, St. Brendan’s Color Guard, Thomas J. Kenny School Band and St. Mark’s Boy Scouts.