Written by Jack Reid
VBC Veteran Jack Reid of Plymouth, Mass., sent us the piece below after taking a recent “Road to Revolution” walking tour in Boston’s North End. At the Old North Church, he noticed dog tags hanging on a fence in the back garden. He went back later and took in the moving sight: thousands of dog tags artfully hung to represent the human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Created in 2006 and dedicated Memorial Day 2007, the Old North Memorial Garden was the nation’s first of its kind.
The Old North Church is one of Boston’s most iconic landmarks, immortalized in Longfellow’s poem ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’: “…Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,— One if by land, and two if by sea;…”.
Over the years, the church has developed several gardens near their main building. One of the most recent is a Memorial Garden honoring those that lost their lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Global War on Terror.
The initial design in 2006 was for small wooden crosses, identifying each soldier, to be affixed to trellises in the garden. As time passed, it became obvious that something more permanent was needed to not only deal with the harsh New England winters, but also to take into account the rising numbers of those who had lost their lives in the service of the country.
A group of church members and neighbors formed a committee and after discussion decided that there would be blank ‘dog-tags’, each one representing an American service member, hung on a series of chains between large, tall fence posts. In the garden, the posts would be arranged in a semi-circle and there was to be a walkway and a meditation bench where visitors could sit and reflect.
In May 2007, the fence posts were set and the walkway was constructed. Prior to Memorial Day in 2007, and with the assistance of visitors to the garden, approximately 3,500 ‘dog-tags’ were hung on the chains between the posts. The Old North Memorial Garden was dedicated on Memorial Day, 28 May 2007.
In November of 2018, a bronze plaque and poppy wreath in honor of British and Commonwealth service members were added courtesy of The Soldiers Fund of Boston.
Currently, an Old North volunteer adds a new ‘dog-tag’ whenever an American service member is lost in these conflicts.
From the Old North Church site:
The tags represent, as closely as possible, the total number of deaths. The thousands upon thousands of tags are a haunting reminder of the toll war takes on families and communities. Visitors are welcome to touch the dog-tags respectfully, walk behind the memorial on the pathway, and take a moment to reflect and pray on the bench provided. They may notice, if the wind stirs, a light chime as the tags move against one another.
Highly recommended and well worth a visit if you are in Boston.
From The Soldiers Fund, Inc., Boston:
Today’s conflict and peacekeeping needs around the world are taking an ever-growing toll on our service men and women and their families. From physical injuries to Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), to coping with loss and lives challenged by the devastating effects of war, our soldiers and their families need our support more than ever. Governments and military agencies are strained under increasing need and shrinking available resources.
As a result, many of our service men and women and their families continue to suffer because of their service on our behalf. Our goal at The Soldiers Fund is to provide the necessary support and resources to soldiers and their families in need.
Our grants provide hardship relief, mobility assistance, home modifications, educational support, annuities, home care fees, respite funding, and survivor and family financial support.
With the support of individuals, corporations and trusts, we are able to provide lifetime financial support, and raise awareness about the increasingly complex issues our soldiers and their families face.