WAUCONDA – It takes countless hours and more than 50 volunteers to plan Wauconda’s Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony.
But, organizers said, it’s an honor just to be involved.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s well worth it when you consider what Memorial Day is really all about,” said Ryan Jacobsen, chair of the Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony Committee for Wauconda American Legion Post 911.
The American Legion, along with help from the village of Wauconda, has hosted the event for 72 years.
Drawing thousands this year, the event is believed to be the largest of its kind in Lake County.
Young and old, veterans, active service members, families and others from throughout Wauconda and beyond joined together on Memorial Day to remember and honor the nation’s fallen.
The hourlong parade included at least 500 participants, with about 80 people attending a Memorial Day ceremony at Cook Memorial Park featuring veteran speakers and the playing of taps.
Among the many veterans at the event were at least two World War II veterans and a Korean War veteran, along with 54 cadets from the Naval Station of Great Lakes – all from different walks of life and different stages of training, Jacobsen said.
The groups connected not only during the event, but also before and after as they gathered for meals.
“What I really love probably the most is seeing the sailors and the World War II vets connecting,” said Jacobsen, a retired U.S. Navy veteran previously stationed at Great Lakes. “That’s really moving to me.”
Jacobsen took over organization of the event from Joe Munson, a longtime Wauconda resident who retired after hosting the Memorial Day Parade and Ceremony for decades.
All involved expressed pride in the hard work put in and the way the event continues to grow through the years.
“I’m honored to represent the Legion and community in that way,” Jacobsen said. “The support from the village of Wauconda and all the people that make it happen, that’s what’s important.”
Home to military monuments and a 9/11 Memorial – all located at Cook Memorial Park – Wauconda serves as an ideal site to honor and mourn those who died while serving in the U.S. military.
Memorial Park was built in 1948 and honors veterans of both World Wars. The 9/11 Memorial was built in 2015 and pays tribute to the victims, first responders and military called to action after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. A 20-foot steel beam from the World Trade Center site stands straight up as part of the Heroes of Freedom memorial and the names of those lost are listed.
The village recently added a new pathway, called the Path of Honor, to connect the monuments and the memorial. The winding sidewalk features landscaping and benches.
“It’s quite an experience to go at 10 o’clock at night and sit in the quiet along the path,” said Tom Baur, commander of Wauconda American Legion Post 911. “All of that is special to me.”
Baur served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. His father served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Military service is a family affair, Bauer said, with both he and his brother serving at the same time.
“I was raised with the fact that [Memorial Day] is special,” he said.