Arlington residents dotted the length of Massachusetts Avenue through the town on Wednesday in honor of an Air Force veteran who died over the weekend.
Mary Teresa Foley was 93 and had no living immediate family members. Town officials did not provide a cause of death, but said it did not appear to be COVID-19 related. Foley had been in hospice for the last several weeks.
"During these trying times, we, as a community, must not forget the service and sacrifice of others," Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said in a statement, which also asked residents to maintain social distancing during the procession.
Foley served 13 years in the Air Force, advancing from airman first class to staff sergeant. She was last an assistant supervisor for the 2014th communication squadron stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base.
Foley would have been legally entitled to military honors at her funeral, including the folding and presenting of the U.S. flag and playing of "Taps." But because of the coronavirus pandemic, federal officials have paused the military funeral honors program.
"I knew I had to do something," said Jeff Chunglo, Arlington's director of veterans' services and retired Navy senior chief hospital corpsman. "No immediate family members, not being able to have military honors rendered — I couldn't let that happen to a fellow veteran."
An honor guard played bagpipes and bore the U.S. and Irish flags. About a dozen police officers, wearing blue and white masks, stood at attention as her casket was carried from DeVito Funeral Home.
The police-led motorcade escorted Foley's casket down the road as Tim Reardon, of Malden, with the Boston Irish Pipes and Drums played "Amazing Grace." People stretched down the street, keeping several feet between them.
"This is oddly strange," Reardon remarked afterward. He's been with the honor guard for more than 15 years and is a lieutenant in the Malden Fire Department. "Full military honors at the gravesite mean so much to the family, especially someone who's done so much time in the military. ... I felt we should have done something for Mary, so we stepped up and did what we do."
Foley was planning to be the Grand Marshall of the Patriots' Day parade in Arlington, which was canceled in light of the coronavirus outbreak. It was originally scheduled for April 19. Foley was especially excited to wear an Air Force uniform again, a wish fulfilled as she was laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden.
"Everybody that I talked to said, 'Oh my God, she would absolutely love this,' " laughed Chunglo, noting Foley's passion for the Air Force. "It was a fitting tribute."
He said Foley would have especially enjoyed residents showing their appreciation of the military. Many wore or carried flags. Several held thank you signs.
"Pandemic or not, somebody who served the country should get the honor and the respect that they deserve," said Barbara Totsi, of Arlington. "The military can't do it right now, so the rest of us need to."
Foley was a devout Catholic, attending Mass at St. Camillus Parish each day and volunteering to clean the church, altar cloths and priest's vestments.
She was "a wonderful story teller and enjoyed sharing a good laugh with anyone who would listen," according to her obituary. "She especially loved telling her escapades in Europe during her years of service there."
Chunglo plans to coordinate the rendering of military honors once the moratorium is lifted.
This article was originally published on April 08, 2020.
This segment aired on April 8, 2020.