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Purple Heart ceremony happens despite COVID

Dana Storrs made sure to mention the people of Lebanon, just days after the large explosion in Beirut.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Last Thursday afternoon, Needham honored the town’s veterans who received the Purple Heart, one day before National Purple Heart Recognition Day. While the Purple Heart Flag was raised and the names of the town’s 86 recipients were read, the ceremony was intentionally kept low-key because of the issues with gathering in large groups due to COVID-19.

A pair of veterans work on raising the Purple Heart flag.

But while the ceremony was largely meant to be for veterans, not having a ceremony was never an option, as VFW Post 2498 Chaplain Tom Keating explained.

“We were going to do it if it rained or anything. We wanted to start this tradition because there are 86 names of Needham residents and there are probably more that didn’t submit their names that are still living, and we wanted to make sure they’re honored because it is Purple Heart Day tomorrow and we are a Purple Heart Town. We checked with the town, and there is a limit of how many people you can have at a gathering. But we figured because we were going to keep it low-key, and specifically for the vets in town, we weren’t going to have a problem maxing out the number of people. With the police and fire honor guards, we were under the fifty people. We didn’t do a big hoopla with the select board or anything and do a presentation in front of them - that’s what I mean by low-key. We didn’t make a big splash about it because frankly, we didn’t know what was going to happen in terms of people coming. But as you can see, we had a pretty good little crowd.”

While the crowd was limited to fifty people due to COVID-19, both the police and firefighter honor guards were present.

A Purple Heart Town is a designation that really began to take hold in the late 2010’s due to the effort of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Clinton Massachusetts was the state's first town designated as such in 2013, with Needham becoming one in 2015. Despite COVID-19 resulting in the deaths of so many older people, Keating said there was thankfully no sizable jump in Purple Heart recipient deaths.

“The majority of the Purple Hearts we read today were from World War II, and there is no living World War II Purple Heart recipient that’s in town right now. We had three or four veterans who passed this year during the COVID crisis, including Dan Keane, our former commander, who passed away from COVID at the Chelsea Soldiers Home in March, but no - we haven’t had a big spike in deaths.”

Although the ceremony was mainly for veterans due to social distancing rules, Selectman Matt Borrelli gave a brief speech during the ceremony.

Part of Purple Heart Recognition Day is that businesses are supposed to fly American flags on August 7. But the question of whether they would or not remained in doubt, largely due to COVID-19.

“We’ll see tomorrow. With COVID and everything and all these shops closed, we don’t know. Last year it was well received - we had a number of local businesses displaying flags, which was great - but we will see.”

The American flags returned to the same spot they were burned on Fourth of July weekend.

There’s also the issue of American flag vandalism. While Keating said there had been no new information about the flag burning incident from Fourth of July weekend, the flags were back up in the same place they were before.

Hopefully the flags are left untouched, and Needham can show that "Purple Heart Town” is more than a symbolic designation.

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