CHICAGO, Ill. - Thousands turned out in support of the nation's servicemen and women during the City of Chicago's Memorial Day ceremony and parade on Saturday, May 25, in downtown Chicago.
A wreath laying ceremony was held at Richard J. Daley Center Plaza to honor the sacrifice and service of all who had served, and those who continue to serve. The ceremony, hosted by the Honorable James Balcer, Alderman of the City of Chicago, included a Gold Star Flag presentation by former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, Leon Panetta; Ill. Governor Patrick Quinn; and the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, to honor the Gold Star Families, the families who have lost a family member in combat.
"On behalf of the entire city and the entire country, we owe a great deal of gratitude to the Gold Star Families," said Emanuel.
Also in attendance were senior leaders from each service branch who included U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Conboy, U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Roger Machut, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Ricky Williamson, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. James Smith, and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Michael Parks.
Panetta, who was the parade Grand Marshall, gave remarks to the crowd sharing his proudest moments as the Secretary of Defense.
"The proudest moments I had was to go to the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, and meet soldiers, Marines, airmen, (sailors), and men and women who are out there," said Panetta. "To look into their eyes and see their dedication and commitment to make sure that we keep America safe. (There is) nothing prouder than to see the men and women (who are) willing to do that. That's what makes America strong."
Four wreaths were laid at the Eternal Flame in the plaza, they included: Gold Star Family, Prisoner of War/Missing in Action, Armed Forces, and the United States of America. "God Bless America" was sung by Leslie Beukelman, from the USO of Illinois; the ceremony closed with a 21 Gun Salute and playing of Taps.
Following the ceremony, event participants along with Brig. Gen. Gracus K. Dunn, commanding general of the 85th Support Command/deputy commanding general for support of First Army-Division West, marched in the parade, representing their service branch down State Street.
The seven-city block parade included marching bands, various Veterans organizations, and numerous Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps groups. Chicago is known to have the largest JROTC program in the country according to Todd Conner, Executive Director, Service Leadership Programs from the Chicago JROTC website.
A small break took place in between the two-hour parade for Parks to swear in 40 recruits into the Armed Forces.
Immediately following, Dunn awarded retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Garcia, Chicago Police officer, a Legion of Merit for his service in the U.S. Army.
"Today is a day to tell the stories of the soldiers of decades past, so the soldiers of yesterday and today are not forgotten by the children of tomorrow," said Dunn.
Dunn also participated in the Village of Norridge Memorial Day ceremony on Sunday, May 26, and the Village of Arlington Heights Memorial Day parade and ceremony on Monday, May 27, with Army Reserve Ambassador William Hawes and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in attendance.