Governor Charlie Baker was joined by Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services Francisco Ureña, Undersecretary Patrick McMurray, Massachusetts National Guard Adjutant Major General Gary Keefe and elected officials to present the Massachusetts Medal of Liberty to 14 families of fallen service members, including a Wellesley family.
State Senator Richard Ross in a Facebook post said, “The deliberation of the Senate Budget was put on hold for a moment to honor the Medal of Liberty recipients. The Medal of Liberty is a state military award given to the next of kin of service men and women from the Commonwealth killed in action or who died in service while in a designated combat area in the line of duty or who died as a result of wounds received in action. My constituent from Wellesley, Margaret Griffin, received this medal on behalf of her husband, Charles J. Sabatier Jr. who sustained a paralyzing bullet wound while serving in the U.S. Army during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. He went on to dedicate his life advocating on behalf of veterans’ and the disabled, and was nationally known and respected.”
Sabatier and his wife Peggy Griffin raised their triplets (two girls and a boy, now 28) in Wellesley and sent them through the Wellesley schools. Griffin is president of Goldstar Wives of America, Greater Boston chapter and works for the Federal Transit Administration as a civil rights officer. She spoke with pride of the man who in Vietnam “went out to rescue another soldier and was shot in the back.” He then came home and made it his life’s work to have the backs of veterans who came home to bleak career prospects, a populace angry about US involvement in the war, and limited understanding about the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, among other challenges.
According to a 2009 Boston Globe story, when Sabatier came home with his life-changing injury, he was confronted with “intersections without sidewalk curb cuts, public buildings without elevators, and policies that set the disabled apart, sometimes in humiliating fashion. Sabatier made it his life work to change policies, physical structures, and the way people thought.”
“My goal is equal citizenship,” he told the Globe in 1988 as he prepared to step down as executive director of Boston’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities. “Nothing less is acceptable. We’re looking for equitable treatment, although not necessarily identical. A disabled person should have the same options as everybody else. I came within an inch of giving my life for this country. The idea of being denied equal opportunity because it might not be cost-effective is utterly reprehensible to me.”
Sabatier helped get an elevator installed in Faneuil Hall and took a stand against degrading treatment on airlines. Griffin recalled the time he was arrested on Delta Airlines for refusing to sit on a blanket. When he showed up to attend his court date, the courthouse wasn’t handicapped accessible.
Sabatier died in 2009 at age 63. His name was added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC in 2011. Sabatier and Griffin’s wedding anniversary is today (May 24). They would have been married 28 years.