BOSTON (State House News Service) – With small color photographs of their loved ones looking down from the large Christmas tree, Gold Star families gathered next to the State House on Thursday for a cathartic recognition of another holiday season — or in some cases, the first — without their military family member.
Up until two years ago, the Gold Star tree would be decked with lights and ornaments in Memorial Hall. With the pandemic closure of the State House last year, the ceremony was suspended — and the Bakers heard about it.
Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters that he and First Lady Lauren Baker “got a lot of letters and emails from these folks, telling us how distressing it was for them that they didn’t have a chance to have this kind of moment.”
“And we basically said this year, State House open or not, one way or another, we’re going to do it. And somebody cooperated and gave us a beautiful day for it,” Baker said, referring to the relatively dry 60-degree day in Ashburton Park.
Sayra Batista and Naliber Taveras came to Beacon Hill to remember their family member U.S. Army Spc. Luis Taveras, who was killed along with his wife and son in a car crash in South Korea just six weeks ago while stationed there with the Army.
Raymond Harris’ daughter, U.S. Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris, was killed in Iraq in 2007. Sitting behind the microphone in his wheelchair, Harris shared with the crowd that his wife died five years ago, and he lost his sister a few months back.
“So I’ve had a tough time. But I have a great neighborhood, and people have been so good to me around here,” said Harris, of Swampscott, as emotion filled his voice. Harris got big hugs from fellow Swampscott residents the Bakers, and the various other dignitaries assembled up front.
There were a lot of hugs, and more than a few tears, as Santa Claus looked on from the other side of the Christmas tree and the family members made their way up to the front.
The last one up to the mic was Rep. Steven Xiarhos, a freshman lawmaker from the Cape, whose son — Marine Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos — was killed 12 years ago in Afghanistan.
A portrait of Nick Xiarhos is tattooed on his father’s forearm, an indelible part of his identity. The Barnstable Republican showed it to some of the other Gold Star family members in Ashburton Park on Thursday.
“For all of your families, I know there’s someone who’s not there, who should be there,” Attorney General Maura Healey told the crowd. “And this tree is such a beautiful symbol of how we individually and collectively can honor each and every one of them.”
Back together around the Gold Star tree after a one-year hiatus, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg urged everyone to “enjoy the human connection that we are experiencing here today, together.”
Said Gov. Baker: “This is a ceremony where you really do give those who’ve lost loved ones in service to our country a chance to speak their name, and to put something on that tree, so that we remember. And the thing you hear over and over again from these families who’ve lost someone is, they just don’t want people to forget, and they want what their family did to matter.”