On Saturday, Mayor Martin Walsh joined members of the Downing family to dedicate a corner in Jeffries Point in honor of Albert Henry Downing.
The Hero Square at the corner of Cottage and Sumner streets pays tribute to Downing who died in World War I.
“On behalf of myself, City Councilor Lydia Edwards, Sen. Joseph Boncore and Rep. Adrian Madaro we’d like to thank Downing family for being with us today,” said Mayor Walsh. “We gathered here today to dedicate this square to Private First Class Albert Henry Downing. Private Downing passed away over 100 years ago, but we still remember his honor and his sacrifice for his neighborhood, his city and his country. He was a true American hero.”
Walsh said the Downing name now joins over 1,700 Hero Squares across the city.
“These squares are found in intersections like the one we are in today,” said Walsh. “These squares deserve to be noticed and those memorial;ized for their commitment to service should be remembered.”
Downing was born in March in 1881 in Saint John County, New Brunswick, Canada. He immigrated with his father and siblings to Greater Boston at the end of the 19th Century. His father Daniel A. Downing sought his fortune in the molasses business.
Ultimately, the family made Eastie their home where Downing then enlisted into the United States Army. Downing served as Private First Class with the 26th Division and the 101st Infantry Regiment.
Alongside the French Army, the 101st Infantry Regiment made a raid into German lines on February 23, 1918 marking this the first time an American unit had launched a raid in the war. Downing passed away from his wounds he sustained in combat on July 11, 1918 in Chateau-Thierry, Aisne, Picardy, France.
For the heroism displayed in his service to our country, Albert was awarded the World War I Victory Medal and is memorialized at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France.
Downing’s great great-grandnephew Ben Downing, who served as a State Senator from Pittsfield before moving to Eastie with his wife and son three years ago, said he was honored by the tribute to his family members.
“I’m honored to stand here and speak on behalf of my entire family,” said Ben. “I want to thank my Uncle Joe Downing who took the time to dig into the history of our family’s service to our country and help to organize this event. It is important to pay tribute to the young men and women who have served our country and provided us with the freedoms we enjoy today.”
Ben Downing said his great-great uncle’s story is really an immigrant story.
“Many immigrants brought their talents and blessing to this country and looked at all this country gave to them and immediately wanted to give back and that should not be forgotten,” he said. “For generations immigrants have come here and have made our country stronger. I want to thank the Mayor and the city for continuing to recognize the sacrifice that was made by thousands of families over the years.”
Downing’s grandnephew Joe Downing added that his great uncle’s story, “Is very much a Boston story”.
“My family has stayed in Boston in various ways for almost 130 years,” he said. “My parents graduated from East Boston High School in 1935 so Boston has remained a home and center of gravity for our family. I have to pay a great compliment to the Mayor who has recognized what is best about this city and the parts of the past that need to be preserved and today we (the Downing Family) are the beneficiaries of that.”
In 1898, the first Hero Square in Boston was named Dewey Square at South Station. Since then, the city has dedicated more than 1,700 Hero Squares for service members killed in action. The gold star on each sign represents the ultimate sacrifice that was given. It is designated only for those killed in action.
In 2013, the city created and added biography plagues at each Hero Square. These plaques have a barcode you can scan that takes you to a website with more details and photos about the service member.
“Hero Squares allow us to pay tribute and honor to our fallen service members in a very visible and permanent way,” said the City’s Veterans Commissioner Robert Santiago. “The Hero Square program is very meaningful to the family and friends of a fallen soldier as well as the community they lived in Once we unveil Private Downing Square you will notice the gold star. The Downing Family has been a gold star family since July 11 1918. I’m sure Private Downing did not want to die but he was willing to make this great sacrifice for the freedoms we all enjoy today.”