"Massachusetts Fallen Heroes" program reminds students of meaning behind Memorial Day
As Whittier students prepared for the Memorial Day Weekend, they were reminded of the solemn significance of the holiday at a presentation led by Captain Mike Devin, an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp. and a speaker for the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes program.
“Amid the barbecues, take a moment to reflect upon those who sacrificed their lives for our country,” he told students. “Take a moment to look up and think about Pvt. First Class Evan O’Neill who sat in this same gym.”
Fallen Heroes is a non-profit organization that honors soldiers from Massachusetts that have been killed in combat and supports their Gold Star families. Since, Sept. 11, 2001, 286 soldiers from Massachusetts have lost their lives, including five from Haverhill and one graduate from Whittier Tech, Evan O’Neill, who died at age 19 in 2003, fighting in Afghanistan.
Seated on bleachers in the gym, more than half of Whittier’s 1,300 students raised their hands when asked if they had a family member who has served in the military. “If your family member made it home, they were lucky,” Capt. Devin said.
Students said they appreciated the message. “Going into the military is a big sacrifice and I wish more people were willing to help their country,” said Caelyn Waite, a freshman from Merrimac. “I think the program was really well done.” She said she plans on going into the Army Reserves right after school. “I want to join the infantry,” she said. I want to be part of it.”
Keily Martinez, a freshman from Haverhill, said, “I thought it was nice the way he mentioned Evan O’Neill, and how he told us to enjoy the day, but thank everyone we see who served, to just say thank you for their service. I also liked hearing how the Gold Star families support each other.”
Capt. Devin said he enlisted after college when he saw members of the U.S. Marine Corp. honor his dad at his funeral. “It was a sense of camaraderie I wanted to be part of,” he said. The day before he shipped out to Afghanistan, he received news that one of his close friends had stepped on a roadside bomb and lost both of his legs and several fingers. He was dispatched to the same location, and eventually stepped on an IED himself, but luckily it did not detonate.
He spent a year there training Afghan armies, and then four years in Mexico where he trained infantry to fight the drug cartels.
Principal Chris Laganas welcomed students and staff to the assembly on Monday and Whittier’s student chorus sang, “The Star Spangled Banner”. A moving video showed Gold Star family members talking about their loved ones and the recognition they deserve. Several students approached Capt. Devin after the presentation and shook his hand.
Members of Whittier’s Student Government, led by Advisors James Donahue, Jr. and Andrew Cherouvis, hosted the program.