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Thousands gather for Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery

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Updated: June 29, 2013 6:28AM



Before the family cookout got fired up Monday, Ann Vrabic brought her two children to Elwood to help them understand what Memorial Day is all about.

“They know their grandfather fought in a war and that this day is about remembering everybody who made a sacrifice for their country,” said Vrabic, who lives in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Her dad, Jack, who served in the U.S. Army in World War II, died last year in a nursing home at age 89 and is buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, she said.

“They’ve (her children) have seen old pictures from when he got out of the war, but there’s so much about that time (World War II) that a lot of us have only read about,” she said after they had visited her father’s gravesite. She and her children were, later on Monday, attending a family holiday gathering in Joliet.

They were among about 2,000 people taking part in a Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery. Organizers of the annual observance said that in most years twice that number comes out, and Monday’s cool, overcast weather likely kept many people from attending.

In a prelude to the ceremony, the Joliet American Legion Band performed patriotic numbers such as Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” march, and a large American flag flew overhead at half-staff. As per tradition on Memorial Day, flags are flown at half-staff until noon.

Marty Fury, director of the cemetery, told the audience that “no observance in America is more somber than Memorial Day,” calling Abraham Lincoln and the nation’s 130 other national cemeteries the “final resting place of some of our nation’s most courageous citizens.”

Dedicated in October 1999 and opened on a portion of the grounds of the former Joliet Arsenal, the cemetery ultimately will have 400,000 burial spaces. More than 33,000 military veterans and others are now buried there.

Fury said the day has been set aside to “remember those who paid the ultimate price for America and all of humanity,” and of “the immeasurable good for which they laid down their lives.”

Nick Thomas, the event’s master of ceremonies, at one point had the crowd look skyward during a fly-over of a World War II-era Grumman Avenger, an event he’d earlier thought might not happen because of weather conditions. The torpedo bomber, built by General Motors, first saw action during the Battle of Midway, he told the audience. Thomas is chairman of the fine arts and humanities department at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Michael Bogmenko, the event’s keynote speaker, said it was an honor to address the crowd as well as to “walk among the heroes who are laid to rest” at the cemetery.

The Wilmington resident and Cook County Sheriff’s police officer said Americans need to reflect on “what this day is all about,” calling Memorial Day “a reality check, not just a day meant for celebration.”



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