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George D. Callender Square

All around the tiny, sun-dappled intersection of Callender and Putnam streets, a half-dozen sign- posts veer this way and that — perhaps a testament to their familiarity with the bumpers of vehicles on these narrow roads. Across the street, however, another marker of the Callender name stands nearly plumb. Both post and sign are artfully constructed and finished in a deep brown, more reminiscent of the Cambridge Parks Department than Traffic and Engineering. The marker bears few words: “George D. Callender Square,” followed by rank, date of birth, date and location of death, and a brief comment: “Killed in action.”

Hundreds, maybe thousands of these memorial posts appear in city and town directories across New England — at least 1,250 in Boston alone — with many more uncounted. Mike Speridakis. Ernest DiBiase. Anthony Lattazio. The litany of immigrant surnames and all-American first names evokes memories of childhood, like the caption to a photo from some extracurricular activity, maybe a Boy Scout troop or the football team. Like a good diet for the plates of still-expanding bones, these activities were intended to make boys sturdy, gainful, productive. In a way, that’s what this roll call is, too: a list of very young men, banded together and sent away to pursue a victory possibly as abstract to them as a goal line.

There are a handful like Callender’s, but most of the markers are far humbler. Stamped-steel signs announce dedications of congested intersections, dusty street corners, and quiet forks in the road. Many of these places seem not to have any awareness of being “squares” at all. They’ve been erected around Boston since 1945, when then-mayor James Michael Curley established a committee for memorializing residents killed in war.

Most squares are dedicated to boys killed in action; some remember the men the survivors became. In Boston, VFW posts now endorse each nomination, but once, all it took was a word from a city councilor — who mostly did and sometimes did not verify that nominees met all the criteria.

Today, commemorations of veterans who died in battle get a star. Those marked with the city seal died after serving. But it isn’t clear that every application has been carefully parsed, and every sign may not reflect the correct distinction. Government records are not always accurate. This is fitting, somehow, because memory itself is always shifting and susceptible to interpretation.

Many communities erect singular war monuments of granite, isolated in a park and removed from the lives of both those remembered and those remembering. But these memorial squares occupy everyday places, usually near the homes of those memorialized, as if to suggest that we should remember them as citizens, once as much a part of the fabric of neighborhood life as these intersections are today.

In a city studded with Brattles and Louisburgs and Kenmores, these often sans serif, all-caps assertions may seem to protest too much. If you laid them out on a map, however, they would spread across the state like lace, like a veil. Commonplace in our daily lives, when they are considered in sum they take on a scale and impact to rival any monument.

The Battle of Hürtgen Forest, a bloody conflict that spanned more than four months between September 1944 and February 1945, is the longest battle in U.S. Army history. At least 33,000 were killed or incapacitated in the U.S. Army alone. It was an unusually cold winter, and the 54-square-mile terrain is severe and remote.

George D. Callender was a graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin, the son of immigrants from Barbados. Italian newspapers reported he was killed during this battle in the rough, hilly forest on the German-Belgian border, six days after his 22nd birthday.