U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk joined in as Arlington Heights saluted its fallen heroes and veterans Monday with a message of thanks and respect during the traditional Memorial Day parade and ceremony.
Drawing a few thousand spectators to the streets between village hall and Memorial Park, the parade gave residents a chance to applaud local veterans and shower them with appreciation as simple as "thank you."
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Kirk, a Highland Parl Republican, played a double role in Arlington Heights' activities -- riding in the parade as a Navy Reserve veteran and helping honor World War II veteran Edward Arthur Field by bestowing a Bronze Star on the late serviceman's son, Daniel Field of Lake Forest.
"We're here really to honor our veterans and remember those who sacrificed," said Chuck Vassallo, incoming commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 981, which organized the parade. "Some of them made an unbelievable sacrifice with their lives to defend our democracy."
Communities throughout the suburbs gathered Monday in remembrance of the nation's military men and women, especially those who died in service, on this 145th annual marking of Memorial Day.
In Arlington Heights, a new honor flag unit marched near the beginning of the parade, wearing sashes with the names of 129 military members from nearby communities, said Jackie Glueckert, who organized the honor flag unit sponsored by Glueckert Funeral Home.
"With all the crazy stuff going on in the world right now, it was just a way for us to honor those who have served our country and bring some pride back for how they preserved our freedom," Glueckert said.
Not far behind was a small contingent of about 10 veterans of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia. The group included Art Hall of Palatine and father-son duo Benjamin and Nathan Pahlow of Arlington Heights, marching in their first parade while Nathan is on leave from Air Force duty.
This year's observance of Memorial Day marks 60 years since the end of the Korean War and 40 years since the last combat troops left Vietnam, but with American forces still in Iraq and Afghanistan, Greg Padovani, chairman of the Arlington Heights Veterans Memorial Committee, invited one veteran from each of those conflicts to speak during the ceremony following the parade.
Korean War veteran Wally Luettschwager, Vietnam War veteran Bill Dussling and Afghanistan veteran D. Court Harris reflected on the meaning of the day for them and their contemporaries.
Dussling said he and his fellow Vietnam War veterans weren't praised and thanked when they returned home, but he felt appreciation for his service when he first participated in the Arlington Heights parade last year.
"It closed a loop in my life. I was truly home," he said. "What I did not realize was the profound effect the words 'welcome home' would have on me. So I offer the same words to all veterans ... welcome home."