'They should always be remembered'
After the bands go by and the flags fly proud, a crowd smaller than the thousands who gather along downtown Naperville streets for the annual Memorial Day Parade assembles in Central Park.
There, the Naperville Municipal Band plays and an invocation is made. A student gives a patriotic speech and a high school chorus sings. It's calm, contemplative.
There, families like the Carusos of Naperville remember the fallen -- like their own, Marine Sgt. David Caruso, who was killed in Iraq at age 25 on Nov. 9, 2004.
There, it's not about firing up the grill or heading to the pool on an almost-summer day off work. It's about the true purpose of Memorial Day: honoring the military members who have lost their lives defending America.
Naperville has 114 of them -- 113 men and one woman.
"We've lost all these people. They've all had families who have loved them," said Gloria Caruso, David's mother, and one-half of a Gold Star couple with her husband, Joe. "They should always be remembered for serving and giving their lives."
The Carusos approached the committee that plans Naperville's Memorial Day Parade with an idea to help remember the fallen, and a simple one at that: banners.
On roughly a dozen banners, the names of all 114 Napervillians who have died in military action are now printed. The banners are at the ready for Scouts or other marchers to carry through the parade beginning at 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 28, and in years to come.
"It's a terrific idea," said Ron Keller, director of the Naperville Municipal Band, who has helped coordinate the Memorial Day Parade since 1967. "A tribute to all those that didn't come back."
Parade planners always invite Gold Star families like the Carusos to ride in the parade, and each year, a few of them do. Caruso said it's a nice way for outgoing families to keep their loved ones in active remembrance. But for she and Joe, smiling from a slow-moving car doesn't feel right.
"We just can't sit in the car and wave," she said.
So instead, she and her husband attend the parade as any other family would, and they make time for a series of smaller memorials planned in conjunction with the parade, visiting several cemeteries for brief ceremonies and culminating with the half-hour observance in Central Park.
Even before Memorial Day took on weightier significance in the wake of David's death, the Carusos took their three sons to the Central Park ceremony, hoping to instill in them the purpose of the day.
"It is not just a parade to celebrate the beginning of summer with barbecues, which is what a lot of people believe," Caruso said. "The military that have died for our country should be remembered first."
Those who plan Naperville's Memorial Day Parade keep that focus in mind, which is why Terry Jelinek, a Navy veteran who has helped host the parade since he returned from duty in 1972, says organizers turn down politicians and prohibit overt advertising among units.
While walking the route along Jackson Avenue from West to Washington streets, then north on Washington to Benton Avenue, then east on Benton to Central Park, the groups take a break at Veterans Plaza along the Riverwalk.
There, Jelinek said veterans say a short prayer, lay a wreath and throw a second wreath into the west branch of the DuPage River, symbolizing lives lost at sea.
"That's something that means a lot to the veterans," Jelinek said.
Caruso said many parade watchers miss the brief ceremony; if they're not standing near the corner of Jackson Avenue and Webster Street, they can't see it. That's why she advises people to stop in Central Park afterward.
Keller said the band will play an arrangement of songs from World War I to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. The group also will perform two marches he wrote, one in honor of the city's VFW post and the other for its American Legion.
A medley of "This Is My Country," "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Stars and Stripes Forever" will close out the performance.
As many as 60,000 people have been estimated to attend Naperville's Memorial Day Parade in the past, and organizers say they hope this year's crowd will find it meaningful.
"We're thankful for the people that come out," Jelinek said. "We hope that they remember the purpose of the day."
If you goWhat: Naperville Memorial Day Parade
When: Parade 10:30 a.m. Monday; ceremony in Central Park immediately following parade, begins about noon
Where: Starts along Jackson Avenue at West Street; heads north on Washington Street; turns east on Benton Avenue, concludes in Central Park, 104 E. Benton Ave.
Who: Parade features 70 units including veterans groups and marching bands