DeKalb pays tribute to fallen veterans on Memorial Day: ‘Our freedoms are not free’

Annual Memorial Day events also mark the unofficial start of summer for DeKalb area residents.

A member of the DeKalb American Legion Post 66 hands out flags Monday, May 29, 2023, during the DeKalb Memorial Day parade.

DeKALB – Dawn Harper feels people shouldn’t treat Memorial Day as a one-off holiday to pay tribute to veterans.

Monday’s federal holiday marked a solemn occasion for many people milling about town and in surrounding areas. Crowds gathered in downtown DeKalb and other cities and townships throughout DeKalb County to pay tribute to servicemen and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice to their country.

“We’re an amazing country with our freedoms,” Harper said. “We take it for granted way too much. It’s an important day.”

There were many ways to observe Memorial Day in DeKalb County, from the Mayoral Memorial Day breakfast in DeKalb and the Soldiers and Sailors Clock Memorial Day ceremony in downtown DeKalb to the Sycamore Memorial Day parade and Maple Park Memorial Day Ceremony.

The annual Memorial Day events also marked the unofficial start of summer for DeKalb area residents.

In DeKalb, crowds lined the streets from the intersection of North Third and Locust streets for the annual Memorial Day parade, which kicked off promptly at 9 a.m.

The procession included participants from the DeKalb High School Marching Barbs, Huntley and Clinton Rosette Marching Band, Cub Scouts and Scouts from the Potawatomi District, Three Fires Council, other community groups and local veterans organizations.

The DeKalb High School marching band plays Monday, May 29, 2023, in the DeKalb Memorial Day parade.

Harper and her husband, Jeb, were making their trek along First Street to find a spot to watch the parade.

Harper said she felt compelled to continue the tradition of coming out for the city’s Memorial Day events. She said the city does an admirable job of honoring veterans in the community.

“They have the flags that they put out every year and support the clock,” Harper said. “I think there’s a lot of things that the city’s done.”

Kendra Moore of DeKalb was chatting with family as they waited for the procession to move their way. She said she feels compelled to use Memorial Day as a teaching moment for her children, Jackson and Isla.

Moore said she believes it’s crucial that her children understand “the importance of remembering and respecting the people who have fought and died for the freedoms that we have” in an age-appropriate way.

“Our freedoms are not free,” Moore said.

Karig McCarthy of DeKalb stood alongside her husband, Brian, during the procession as it came to an end.

She said she hopes people “just remember that people lost their lives” fighting for their freedom.

Karig McCarthy said her favorite part of the Memorial Day parade is easy to pinpoint.

“I like the marching bands,” Karig said. “That was cute. That was like junior high kids. That was sweet.”

Brian McCarthy said a different attraction during the parade caught his eye.

“I’m pretty sure they were all veterans in the beginning on the Harleys, on motorcycles,” Brian said.

Crowds spilled into the lawn of the Ellwood House after the downtown parade in DeKalb to pay tribute to the fallen. Former DeKalb mayor Jerry Smith, also a U.S. Army veteran, gave keynote remarks during the ceremony.

“My own military career, during which I spent most of my time in Germany doing broadcast duty, was undoubtedly not as fearful as many have experienced,” Smith said. “As I enjoy my Tuesday morning coffee group at The Lincoln Inn, I’m reminded of how the Korean experience must have been when I chat with Cliff Seldal … or how vigilant those serving in Vietnam had to be, like my good friend Tom Weber. Old guys enjoying coffee today … and fortunate to be among those who served their country overseas.”

Those gathered paid tribute to each branch of the U.S. military and invited local veterans to stand and be recognized.

Mayor Cohen Barnes, who served in the U.S. Army, issued words of thanks for veterans’ service and sacrifice.

It warms my heart that we all came out today to commemorate to remember those who fell in service to our country,” Barnes said. “For the ability to come out again on a beautiful day like this to gather together with each other and to enjoy the freedoms that we all have, and for all of you to come out today and take that moment, pause and start your day before all the fun, family and activities happen, it says a lot … about you. It says a lot about those of us in DeKalb. It says a lot of about our great nation.”

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