'You just want someone to be remembered': Memorial to fallen soldiers comes to Arlington Heights
Thursday marked the second time Elizabeth Wade visited a national traveling photographic memorial of nearly 5,000 U.S. military personnel who have died in service since Sept. 11, 2001.
On one of the large double-sided, full-color banners on display this weekend in Arlington Heights' North School Park are two photos of her son, Andrew Wade.
The Army specialist from Antioch was only 22 when he died in 2011 during a noncombat-related incident in Afghanistan.
"I was excited to know that people are seeing him and remembering him, because you just want someone to be remembered," she said. "Twenty-two is really young to be gone. You don't get new memories because they're gone. But here it's amazing, every so often you'll find somebody that'll tell you a story that you didn't know before, which is really, really awesome."
Gold Star families like the Wades got to choose which two photos to submit for the Remembering Our Fallen exhibit, created by Nebraska-based Patriotic Productions Inc. The memorial banners include both formal military and more casual, personal photos.
The display -- banners on 30, 10-foot-tall tribute towers -- arrived to the park via motorcycle escort, in a procession that began after 9 a.m. Thursday at Mitsuwa Marketplace and passed by six Arlington Heights schools, where students and teachers stood outside waving American flags. The procession was led by Rolling Thunder Illinois Chapter 2, the Elgin-based chapter that publicizes POW/MIA issues.
Members of The Knights of Columbus 4th Degree of Northern Illinois, who are hosting the display through the weekend, spent Thursday morning assembling it ahead of a noon opening ceremony.
The exhibit opens at 7 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday with an opening prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. At 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, ceremonies will take place featuring color guards, patriotic musical selections, and speeches by Gold Star families and retired military.
Katie Stack, wife of Marine Lance Cpl. James Stack, the 20-year-old from Arlington Heights who died in 2010 in Afghanistan, is scheduled to speak at the Friday evening event, while James Stack's father Bob will speak Saturday. Interfaith vigils are scheduled for 7 p.m. on both nights, and a closing ceremony is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday.
North School Park is at Evergreen Avenue and Eastman Street just north of downtown Arlington Heights.
At Thursday's opening ceremony, Gold Star mother Jean Harris told the crowd that tributes like the traveling memorial wall help their loved ones continue to live on.
"For a Gold Star family, every day is Memorial Day," said Harris, who regularly interacts with other parents as northern Illinois coordinator for Survivor Outreach Services, a support organization for families of fallen soldiers.
Harris' stepson, Army Sgt. Joshua William Harris of Forest Park, died in 2008, after his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
"This display brings to the general public the faces and names of the heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country," Jean Harris said. "Some people may see a familiar face staring back at them, or recognize the names they are reading. Others can tell personal stories about the soldiers on the display from childhood or from a more current time. Either way, (the exhibit) brings them to life by not letting them be forgotten and their names to continue being said."
• Daily Herald photographer Mark Welsh contributed to this report.