BOSTON — Seventy years ago Thursday, six Boston firefighters lost their lives fighting a restaurant fire in East Boston. The Luongo Restaurant fire came to be known as the “forgotten fire,” because just 13 days after the tragedy, the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire in Boston claimed almost 500 lives and became a major national news story.
But on Thursday the fire department and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center unveiled a granite memorial to the six firefighters in Maverick Square, next to the site where the fire happened. The memorial features the names and pictures of the fallen firefighters.
As a bell tolled during the ceremony, the president of Boston Firefighters Local 718, Rich Paris, read a roll call of the firefighters who died on Nov. 15, 1942: Edward Macomber, John Foley, Peter McMorrow, Francis Degan, Daniel McGuire and Malachi Reddington.
“For generations of new East Bostonians, when they see this memorial, they will know about that fire that took place in East Boston. The Luongo Fire will no longer be the ‘forgotten fire’ in Boston,” said Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who worked with the health center in Maverick Square for the last several years to get the monument built.
Ted Gerber, president of the Boston Fire Historical Society, on Thursday recounted what happened on that fateful night:
When the fire had been contained and nearly under control, without warning the Henry Street wall collapsed, trapping several in the wreckage, while the falling masonry also crushed the ladder truck of Ladder 8. Daybreak found exhausted, injured and saddened firemen lying on the street, waiting for transport to hospitals.
Sally Glora is the city of Boston’s auditor and the niece of one of the six firefighters, Degan.
“An old tribute states, ‘Poor is the nation that has no heroes. Shameful is the one who has them and forgets’, ” Glora said on Thursday at the ceremony. “The presence of each of you here today stands as a testament that even these many years later, that we, the people of Boston, have not forgotten the sacrifice made by each of these brave men.”
Ellen Curran of Peabody never got to meet her uncle, firefighter McGuire.
“My mother used to tell me how our uncle died and what a hero he was, and also that it was such a tragedy, you know?” Curran recalled. “Because my aunt was never the same after he died, which was a shame.”
East Boston resident Mary Cahalane remembers how the deaths affected her father, an ambulance driver on duty the night of the fire.
“He was a resident of East Boston, knew many of the men, was horrified and haunted and all his life wished that there had been a memorial,” Cahalane said. “Because Cocoanut Grove sort of took over precedent and this was lost.”
Father Daniel Mahoney, chief chaplain for the Boston Fire Department, called the work of the six firefighters who died in the Luongo Restaurant “noble and sacred.”
“By their actions, these departed six firefighters spoke far more eloquently of themselves than any one of us ever could,” Mahoney said.