PEABODY — For times of triumph and times of tragedy the Peabody Fire Department honor guard has been reborn, despite a few missteps.

The guard represents the city’s firefighters at parades, public events and funerals, marching in tight military formation with state flags, city flags, a POW flag and Old Glory. And now it will be in centerfield at Fenway Park on Monday night, presenting both the American and Canadian flags for the Red Sox game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In years past the honor guard was a common sight.

“But it was phased out,” shrugs organizer Chris Dowling. “Guys kind of lost interest. Things got political.”

Dowling, a former Army airborne staff sergeant, has the responsibility of whipping a new guard into shape, teaching his team to march smartly, to execute military turns and salutes.

Over the past months the group has been practicing, gathering equipment and raising $10,000 for crisp, new dress uniforms. The men take it seriously — they had a sobering reminder of the honor guard’s purpose on Wednesday with the deaths of Boston firefighters Warren Payne and Paul Cahill.

That hasn’t made it any easier to learn the moves. On Thursday night they rehearsed on the outfield grass at Emerson Park. Dowling fell easily into the drill sergeant’s cadence. But some of his firefighters have no military experience, and keeping in formation wasn’t always easy.

“Look at yourselves,” Dowling pleaded, “you could drive a truck between you and you. ... Wow, you are uncoordinated.”

Dowling wrangled the job at Fenway Park through a contact in the Red Sox organization — only to discover it would be far sooner and far more complicated than he anticipated, involving a foreign flag. He went to Peabody VFW commander Manny Raymond for advice on the protocol. Then he called for practices.

“No pressure,” joked honor guardsman Dave Limongiello. “There’s only going to be 39,000 people watching us.”

As drills began, members of the honor guard had difficulty getting precisely where they wanted to be — behind second base — in precisely the formation they needed to maintain.

“There is no excuse for that!” Dowling cried when two men drifted off toward centerfield. “I’ve never seen that before,” he shook his head.

By twilight, however, the line sharpened. Eventually, the team finished where it intended. “Beautiful,” said Dowling. Flags dipped slowly, in unison.

“You’ll have to hold them there for two national anthems,” Dowling warned.

Kevin Remington, who served as a bosun’s mate and diver in the U.S. Navy, sees his participation on the honor guard as an opportunity “to give something back to the community. The kids look up to us.”

The honor guard has already performed at funerals for retired firefighters. They expect the Payne/Cahill memorial will be their first appearance on behalf of firefighters fallen in the line of duty.

“We’re definitely going to be there,” Dowling resolved. At Fenway Park, too, they will request a moment of silence.

For his part, Dowling has been to memorials after the 1999 Worcester fire, which killed six firemen, and to New York after 9/11, when 343 firefighters were lost.

He recalled that memorial: “As the bagpipes start playing there was not a dry eye in or out of uniform,” he said. “When I jumped into Kosovo, one of my Ranger buddies died in the jump. That was a very moving ceremony. But I never cried in uniform before New York City.”

A lot of that came back this week.

“Anybody in this job knows the dangers,” said Limongiello, who handled the brass pole meant to carry the Maple Leaf.

He and his wife were watching television when news of the Boston deaths came on. “We didn’t really talk about it. I know it bothered her.” Limongiello paused. “But she also knows I have good training. I work with other good guys. And we’re all looking out for each other.”

Which is, in a way, exactly what the honor guard does.





Watch the Sox

The Peabody honor guard will participate in pregame ceremonies during the Canadian and American national anthems prior to Monday’s 7:05 p.m. start at Fenway Park, a game between the Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. The event is expected to be televised on cable television’s NESN.

Recommended for you