Arlington residents braved a typical April rainstorm to line the streets of Massachusetts Avenue on the morning of Wednesday, April 7, to help give an Arlington hero one final send off.
When Air Force veteran Mary Foley passed away on Saturday, April 4 at the age of 93, the long-time Arlington resident did not have any surviving close relatives. Typically when a veteran passes away, the Military Funeral Honors program, which is run by the US Department of Defense, provides military services at the funeral, including the ceremonial playing of TAPS, attendance by uniformed personnel from the veteran’s branch of the military, and the folding of the United States flag.
However, due to the coronavirus shutdown, the DOD has suspended the Military Funeral Honors program, meaning that Foley would not have the traditional ceremony available to her as she was laid to rest. The lack of surviving family members also made it difficult to ensure that Foley had a ceremony befitting her civic contributions.
“I thought it was important for us as a community to recognize her, she wasn’t going to be forgotten and pass away without her military honors,” Arlington Veterans’ Services Director Jeff Chunglo said.
Chunglo began working with town departments to see what they could do for Foley. By working with the Arlington Police Department, Arlington Health and Human Services, and the Town Manager’s office, Chunglo was able to put together the procession on Wednesday, which led Foley down Mass. Ave on the way to her final resting place, Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden.
“We did work with the health department to make sure that this was a safe event to have, and I noticed that with the exception of families that were watching the procession together, everyone was maintaining a safe social distance,” Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said.
Massachusetts State Senator Cindy Friedman was in attendance and took to Twitter to thank Arlington residents for coming out and supporting the procession.
“This morning I joined the Arlington community on Mass. Ave. to honor Arlington resident and Air Force veteran Mary Foley. We properly honored our fallen hero and recognized her service to our country while maintaining our own safety,” Friedman said on Twitter. “The sense of community from Arlington residents in otherwise difficult and stressful times make me proud to live and represent this town. This is what coming together as a community looks like.”
A life of service
Chunglo met Foley three years ago and was surprised by her energy level.
“She told me she was 90 and I couldn’t believe it, she was sharp as a tack and a very dynamic personality. She was extremely proud of her service and we talked a lot about her time in the military,” Chunglo said.
According to Chunglo, Foley had a difficult childhood. Her father left the family before she was born and her mother died during childbirth. Foley was adopted and raised by her grandparents with the help of her 16-year-old sister. Foley enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War era, and continued to re-enlist, starting out as an administrative specialist, advancing to staff sergeant and eventually becoming the administration supervisor for the 2014th Communications Squadron, located at Hanscom Air Force Base.
“She loved her time in the military, she had to leave because her grandfather got sick and she was discharged,” Chunglo said. “She was very involved in the community, seemed to know everyone in town.”
Last October, Foley became ill and she had a request for Chunglo. She was unable to find her old Air Force uniform, and she was concerned because she wanted to be buried in it. Chunglo worked with Hanscom Air Force Base to secure a new uniform for Foley, complete with accurate award ribbons.
Foley’s health improved enough that in January, Chunglo asked her to be the Grand Marshall of the annual Patriot’s Day Parade in Arlington, a position she accepted without hesitation. Unfortunately, Foley’s health declined and the parade was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, on Wednesday, Arlington was able to provide her with her own special trip down Mass. Ave anyway.
“She didn’t get a chance to lead the Patriot’s Day Parade, but she led her own parade today,” Chunglo said.
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