This year’s Memorial Day celebration will feature a hometown hero as keynote speaker. Ex-Navy Seal and Dorchester native Stephen Butler will deliver the main address at a ceremony following the Memorial Day Parade next Monday morning, May 28, at Cedar Grove Cemetery.
Butler grew up on Carruth Street in Ashmont, a neighborhood that he says shaped his future decision to serve his country. “With SEALs, people always think of the physical standards, you know, boot camp and hell week,” said Butler. “But it’s really the moral characteristics they’re looking for, and as far as that goes I think I was already a step ahead.”
Butler attended St. Brendan’s school and Archbishop Williams High before going on to gain a degree in sociology at Framingham State University. Upon graduation he was uncertain about his next step, but said he “had always had the military in the back of his head.”
“The things they value like integrity, loyalty, hard work – that’s just how I was raised, that’s what I learned from my parents, my family and friends. Growing up in this community you kind of learn all those things.”
Butler joined Seal Team 4 in 2011 and served two deployments in East Africa, the first in 2014 and the second in 2016. While abroad, he says, the continued support he received from his home town was unparalleled among his fellow Seals.
“I was deployed during the holidays and I got all these packages from my family, from my wife, even from the kids at Leahy-Holloran Community Center,” he said. “That didn’t happen for the other guys. I was lucky to have that.”
In light of this support network, Butler said, his speech will largely focus on the community.
“As a Seal, one of the biggest things is having your buddy’s back,” he said. “Growing up here, that came naturally. It’s also all about humility and having a thick skin and, you know, good luck growing up in Dorchester if you don’t have a thick skin.”
After leaving the Navy in June 2017, Butler wanted to go back home and start a family. He now lives with his wife Bernadette in Milton and works for Liberty Mutual.
Many veterans face a difficult transition back into civilian life after leaving the military, but Butler says his close-knit community of friends and family in the area made it easy for him. “Once I was back for a few months, it was like I never left,” he said.
A private person by nature, Butler said he probably would not have elected to give the speech without the endorsement and encouragement from Steve Bickerton, a lifelong neighbor, family friend, and commander of the Old Dorchester Post #65 American Legion.
“I’m honored to do it,” he said of his role in the Memorial Day proceedings. “Ceremonies like this don’t happen all over the country, so it’s special. The day’s about coming together and remembering those who gave their lives, and I think that’s what those people gave their lives for, so that communities like this can exist. In a way I think this community embodies what those people sacrificed for.”
In giving his speech, Butler will be part of Boston’s oldest Memorial Day ceremony and one of Dorchester’s oldest and proudest traditions. A community fixture since 1868, the parade has regularly featured political dignitaries and distinguished guests, including John F. Kennedy in 1958 when he was a US senator.
The observances have their roots with the veterans of the Civil War era, who began the tradition of marching to Cedar Grove Cemetery after it was consecrated. Monday’s events include a solemn ceremony at the Grand Army of the Republic plot and the statue of Dorchester’s own Capt. Benjamin Stone, a volunteer who was killed at the Battle of Second Bull Run in 1862. A second ceremony at a larger stage near the cemetery’s main entrance will feature remarks from local political figures and veteran leaders. The morning events begin with the parade to the cemetery from the John P. McKeon Post on Hilltop Street, which is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.