For the first time since 2019, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood held its Memorial Day Ceremony to honor service members who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The weather was warm and sunny but also thankfully windy for the thousands of visitors who arrived throughout the day Monday at the Veterans National Cemetery in Elwood, 11 miles south of Joliet.
In front of an audience of hundreds, Nick Thomas, master of ceremonies, said the cemetery staff had been “missed by each and every one of you over the past two years”.
“But we know you were here in spirit, honoring those who gave their lives in service to our country,” Thomas said.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the cemetery from holding an in-person Memorial Day ceremony.
The event came back strong for the cemetery’s 23rd year with music from the Joliet American Legion Band, speeches from actors playing President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, men and women wearing military uniforms of past wars in the United States., and pilot Tom Buck flying a WWII plane twice above the audience.
“We’re back and I’m thrilled to be here,” said Quincy McCall, superintendent of Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
McCall said everyone gathers at the cemetery for Memorial Day to remember “great and brave Americans.”
“We don’t know their individual thoughts and feelings when they met their fate, but we do know that they died for a cause greater than themselves,” McCall said.
The cemetery was dedicated on October 3, 1999 as the 117th national cemetery for American veterans. It serves thousands of veterans and their families in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
Diane Hickey, who lives in Florida, was with her family at the grave of her late husband Timothy Hickey, a US Army veteran who fought in the Vietnam War. He died in 2014 at age 66, just five days before his 67th birthday.
“I think it’s great. I think the way they’re doing that service here is fantastic,” Diane Hickey said of the Memorial Day ceremony.
Diane Hickey said her husband was a “very proud man” who was “proud to have served his country”. She said Timothy didn’t talk about the Vietnam War until his grandson started asking him about it for school.
Marcus Mayes, of Chicago Heights, was with his mother to remember his late father, Willie Ester Mayes, a U.S. Army veteran who fought in the Vietnam War. He died in 2012 at age 63.
Mayes said he thinks veterans aren’t respected enough.
“We should think about it more often, not just one day of the year,” he said.
This perspective was reflected in a speech at the ceremony by Terry Prince, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
Prince told the audience that the ceremonies were important, but that people’s gratitude had to be more than “visits to troops at Memorial Day ceremonies once a year.”
“We honor the dead best by treating the living well. You are here because you know it,” Prince said.
Prince said his department provides dozens of veteran-centric services, such as running five veterans homes in Illinois, including a 200-bed facility in Chicago.
Prince said Memorial Day is not just about honoring war dead veterans, but also about the “invisible wounds of war.”
“Those whose wounds may not have come on a battle station or a hospital ship, but wounds so powerful that they hit them later, a few years later,” Prince said.