Letter to the Editor:

By Ray Flynn

Former Mayor of Boston and Former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican 

The New England Center and Home for Veterans in downtown Boston, founded in 1989, has become one of our nation’s leading private community-based providers of human services — including medical care, shelter and job training — for veterans experiencing challenges following their military service. Recently, a great crowd of patriotic supporters turned out for the annual Leave No One Behind Gala at the Seaport World Trade Center, to express their support for homeless and needy veterans. My friend Capt. Thomas G. Kelley, USN Medal of Honor recipient, was presented the center’s Distinguished Service to Veterans Award and honored for conspicuous gallantry in the line of combat. The gala also marked the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day and the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. 

Talking to a group of business people and concerned citizens at the reception, we were reminded of the early opposition to this shelter that we received when we decided go ahead with the homeless facility in the heart of downtown Boston. We were told that crime and drug abuse would go up and drive businesses out of downtown. That homeless veterans from surrounding towns who need help would likely flock to Boston. “Mayor, I remember you saying at a meeting at City Hall that ‘no homeless person will go without a warm bed, a hot meal, medical care or job training as long as I am mayor.’ We all thought that was a promise that couldn’t be kept, but it became a reality. 

I’ll tell you why it became a reality, I said, because there were a lot of people in Boston who felt that the country owed a debt of gratitude to all those men and women who courageously defended our country in the U.S. military in a time of danger and need. Also, I’ve learned that there are a lot of people who are willing to volunteer their time, energy and resources to help people down on their luck. I personally witnessed the kindness of people in my own community, church and schools many times growing up. They may not openly talk about it, but you can always count on them in a time of need. 

Just then, Tom Lyons, a leading veteran in Massachusetts, walked over to us and I said to the group, “Tom is a great example of the kind of person I am referring to. He served our country in the U.S. Marines in Vietnam and then came home to work hard for America’s values in helping needy veterans. I saw this every day for almost 10 years as mayor at City Hall watching people like Veterans Commissioner Tom Matarazzo,” Tom Lyons and Gene Vaillancourt, right up to the present day with Commissioner Giselle Sterling, in standing up for all our veterans. 

In ending our constructive conversation, I said, “It’s people like Tom Kelley and Tom Lyons along with so many of all our veterans who continue to make our country great.”