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Cambridge Marks Memorial Day with Parade and Nod to Long Lost Aviator

Cambridge Marks Memorial Day with Parade and Nod to Long Lost Aviator

By Karen Klinger

Under a brilliant blue sky with thousands of American flags flapping in the breeze in Cambridge Cemetery, the city marked Memorial Day with a parade, music, speeches and a tribute to a local aviator who disappeared in the jungles of New Guinea in 1943 and finally has been brought home.

City officials, veterans, marching bands, reenactors in Civil War and Revolutionary War uniforms, youth groups and fire, police and emergency personnel joined in the annual observance by marching from Cambridge Common through Harvard Square to the cemetery past hundreds of onlookers who clapped, snapped photos and waved flags.

At a ceremony, Mayor Denise Simmons stood with family members of Second Lieutenant Ronald F. Ward to read a city council proclamation honoring the 1937 graduate of the city’s then Rindge Technical School (now Rindge and Latin) who vanished along with 10 crewmates aboard a B-24D Liberator bomber while on a mission over New Guinea on Dec. 3, 1943.

Only in 2004 did investigators from the Department of Defense finally locate the plane’s wreckage after receiving a report from New Guinea hunters who spotted it in 2000. After military forensics experts spent years analyzing findings from the site, the Pentagon announced in April that the remains of Ward and the other airmen had been identified, and would be returned for burial with military honors.

For Ward’s sister, Kathleen Lund, it brought to an end more than six decades of wondering what had happened to him, since the day her family was notified that he was missing in action. Lund, a former teacher at the Maynard School who lived in Cambridge for more than 70 years before moving to Malden, could not be at the ceremony, but her husband, daughter and son were. Lund’s daughter, Susan, held up a photograph of her uncle, while her brother, Michael, thanked the city for honoring him.

The Pentagon says the remains of Ward and his fellow airmen will be buried in one casket in July in Arlington National Cemetery with the grave marked by a headstone with 11 names.

According to historian James McPherson, Memorial Day began as Decoration Day after the Civil War, when people placed flowers and small American flags on the graves of soldiers who died in that conflict. By 1891, every Northern state had designated May 30 as the day for remembering the war dead and declared it a legal holiday, although the Southern states for a time observed separate memorial days.

In 1968, Congress passed a law establishing Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, making it one of five Monday holidays during the year, an act that McPherson says “hastened its trivialization” into a time more for barbecuing than solemn reflection.

On this day, though, a crowd was gathered at the cemetery to hear keynote speaker Eric Dinoto of the Massachusetts National Guard talk about the work—and sacrifices—of those who serve in the military. Dinoto recently returned from Iraq, where over 4,080 American troops have been killed since the 2003 invasion (none from Cambridge) and more than 30,300 wounded.

Later, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” a bugler played taps and a few people lingered to stroll among the waving flags and grave markers as the sun shone down brightly.