DRACUT -- Families, friends and neighbors gathered under bright November sun Saturday to dedicate a memorial park to the memory of Army Spc. Mathew G. Boule, a young Dracut man who in April 2003 became the first New England casualty of the Iraq war.

"Welcome to Mat's park," his mother, Suellen Boule, told the approximately 200 people who attended the ceremony on Lakeview Avenue along the edge of Beaver Brook. "This was one of Mat's favorite spots. He loved to come here and put his canoe in."

The dedication ceremony was an emotional tribute to the patriotism and love of family that Boule demonstrated during his 22 years. For his parents and family, it was a chance to thank the many who helped make the park reality.

Remembering his son's "quirky little smile," Leo Boule said simply, "Thanks for making it happen."

Suellen Boule and Mat's fiancée, Kat Pintal, worked for more than a decade on their vision of the park. Finally, in August 2015, the Board of Selectmen agreed to set aside the site at 1200 Lakeview Ave. that had once been home to a DPW building.

The two women had help from many people, including state Rep. Colleen Garry, who led the dedication program.

In honor of their cousin, sisters Rebecca Farnham and Amanda Paton sang the national anthem as a haunting soprano duet. "He was like a big brother to us. The big brother we never had," Paton said.

Farnham spoke of his sense of family.


"He was our cousin, but in a way he was everyone's cousin. He felt we were all connected in that way."

Public officials on hand for the dedication included Gov. Charlie Baker, who gave the keynote address, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, state Sen. Barbara L'Italien, and Alison Hughes, who chairs the Board of Selectmen.

Baker said he had approached this event "thinking about it like a dad."

He said "the sun rises and sets" in his own children. He recollected a recent nighttime walk in the nation's capital with his son, also Charlie, who wanted his parents to see the city the way he does.

They walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and stopped at all the memorials along the way. "In the night, it became much more real. And we were among hundreds of people that night."

The Boule Memorial Park will be like that, the governor said. "People will come, and people will remember. This will be hallowed ground."

Tsongas assured the family that "his legacy lives on in his family and friends. And his legacy lives on in this nation which can never forget. Thank you for his deep patriotism. He was your son, Dracut's son and our son."

His brothers, Michael and Kristopher Boule, and his sister, Wendy Mendonca, unveiled the memorial, which drew an audible "wow!" from the audience.

Mathew Boule died after his UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by enemy fire over Karbala Gap, Iraq. He loved helicopters, according to his mother. In 2003, she was quoted in the Military Times as saying, "He loved his work and he loved his birds. I went to visit him in Georgia last July and he showed me his bird -- that's what he called his Black Hawk. He was so proud of it. He was so proud he made crew chief. Someday he wanted to fly them."

And the final, emotional salute acknowledged that passion. After the playing of taps, a State Police helicopter performed a ceremonial flyover for a Dracut hero.

The memorial park is intensely personal. It reflects his love of helicopters, his love of family and his love of community. Helicopters are incorporated in the exquisite wrought-iron work created and donated by Mill City Ironworks. Stone for the monument came from his grandmother's yard and a foundation stone from the World Trade Center. Luz Granite and Hudson Monuments were also partners in the effort.