Surrounded by a crowd of more than 200 residents and military personnel, Richard Winterfield, of the Illinois National Guard, said it's important to remember Memorial Day is a time to stop and give thanks for those who died protecting our freedoms.
"The memorial in Memorial Day has been ignored by too many of us who are beneficiaries of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Often we do not observe this day as it should be," Winterfield said during Streamwood's Memorial Day ceremony Sunday at the village's Veterans Memorial on Irving Park Road.
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"Memorial Day has come to signify the start of summer for many Americans and is often celebrated with cookouts and family get-togethers," he said. "Memorial Day has, for too many Americans, gotten lost in the holiday hoopla."
Winterfield asked that everyone find some time this Memorial Day to think about it's meaning.
"Enjoy your burgers and hot dogs with your loved ones, but take a moment to remember those who cannot do the same," he said.
The ceremony was preceded by an overnight vigil by military veterans and active-duty personnel who took turns standing guard at the memorial for one-hour shifts.
Before providing a brief history of the song taps, Streamwood Village President Billie Roth said she was pleased with the turnout. Attendees ranged from World War II veterans and Boy Scouts to local government officials and young families.
"It is always gratifying and moving to see how many people come year after year to participate in this observance," Roth said. "Somewhere, I am sure those who fell defending our nation are smiling down on us as well, pleased in the knowledge that they have not been forgotten."
A procession of color guards was followed by the presentation of the American flag and service flags. The Spring Valley Concert Band played the service songs for the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard as each flag went up. The Medinah Highlanders Pipes and Drums then performed "Amazing Grace" in honor of military personnel who are prisoners of war or missing in action. There was a symbolic table ceremony to honor the POWs and MIAs, too, with five empty seats representing each military branch.
At one point, Winterfield noted the number of casualties in past wars. He said more than 6,600 U.S. service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"It's very humbling to hear all the stats from all the wars," said Glenn Thill of Schaumburg.
Thill used to attend the Streamwood ceremony with his recently deceased father, who was a Korean War veteran. This year, Thill and his wife, Jennifer, brought their 14- and 8-year-old sons.
"I want them to come every year. They need to come every year to learn what everyone's done for their freedom," Jennifer Thill said.
Other parts of the ceremony included a moment of silence, a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, and the placement of wreaths at the memorial's monoliths.
Shelby Johnston, of Streamwood, said she has regularly attended the ceremony since she was a child.
"I'm loyal to my hometown ceremony," she said, adding that her father was in the Air Force and her grandfather was in the Navy. "It's powerful. It's moving. It's tradition."
She brought her two young children, who she also hopes will make it a tradition.
"I just want them to value it as well -- value the sacrifice that the servicemen and women have made for our freedoms," she said. "For them to understand, that is the least I can pass on to them."