U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran of the war in Iraq, said Sunday that while it's OK for Americans to have fun on Memorial Day, they should try to "celebrate with a purpose."
"Make sure to say a little prayer -- think about those men and women who laid down their lives for us," Duckworth said.
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Duckworth was the keynote speaker at the 23rd annual Veterans Memorial Day Ceremony held Sunday in Streamwood. Dozens of people gathered at the memorial site on Irving Park Road to pay tribute to those who have died serving their country.
The service was a mix of the celebratory and the somber. The crowd applauded as the flags of the military's various branches were raised. They bowed their heads during the Table Ceremony, which honors missing soldiers and prisoners of war.
"Memorial Day evokes in us a unique mix of deep sadness, great pride and treasured memories," Streamwood Village President Billie Roth said.
Duckworth's speech was the centerpiece of the service. The Hoffman Estates congresswoman lost both her legs and partial use of her right arm while serving in Iraq with the Illinois Army National Guard in 2004.
In her speech, Duckworth recalled the sacrifices made by soldiers throughout America's history, from the Battles of Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War all the way through today's conflicts in the Middle East.
"I don't know that we can ever give back to them everything they deserve, but we can make sure to never forget," she said.
Duckworth made special mention of the veterans of the Vietnam War, saying they were the soldiers who taught Americans to "love our warriors even if we don't love the wars."
After the event, people in the audience, including many veterans, lined up to speak to Duckworth and shake her hand. Huntley resident Loren Argall, a veteran of the Vietnam War, appeared visibly moved when he hugged and talked to Duckworth.
"I have so much respect for her, for what she's had to give up," Argall said.
Sunday's service was preceded by a candlelight vigil and vigil guard, which began Saturday evening and continued overnight. Uniformed guards, made up of veterans and active-duty personnel, took turns marching silently through the Veterans Memorial as a reminder of the sacrifices soldiers had made before them.