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Each year, Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember those individuals who have fought and died for the freedoms we so often as a nation take for granted. It is also a time to honor their loved ones who know all too well the sadness that loss on such a great emotional scale brings.

Every day is a day of memorial for these families. To say that we will never forget their sacrifice is important. Over the course of the next several days, we will see and hear many tributes to our fallen and to the Gold Star Family members who carry the weight of their sacrifice and loss. It is important to show our respect and to honor them. 

That is why once again this year, on Saturday, May 27, 2017, the City of Chicago will host the Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade along State Street. This event is one of the largest of its kind in the nation, a testament to the commitment of the City of Chicago to honor the generations of families and friends from all wars, who have lost a loved one in military actions in the name of freedom.

The ceremony and parade are coordinated by a City of Chicago committee with 20 staff and volunteers who work in the months leading up to the parade to plan the event. Here you will find representatives from all branches of the military, the CPS JROTC, the Chicago Loop Alliance, USO and many others joining with the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to make it happen.

You will also find James Frazier here. Jim’s son Jake was killed in Afghanistan on March 29, 2003. Today, his family is among over 270 other Gold Star Families in Illinois who have lost loved ones in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat actions. Jim has brought a strength of purpose to the table in his position as the Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator and continues to support the Gold Star Families of Illinois.

The Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. at Daley Plaza. It is a moving and poignant program dedicated to the memory of those members of our armed forces who did not come home.

The Chicago Memorial Day Parade is like no other. In another time, newspapers would publish advance pull-out sections with the parade route, photographs and a tribute to the fallen. Until only a few years ago, the parade itself was broadcast, first live, and then a shorter version on a tape-delayed basis the next day. Budgets being what they are, this is no longer possible. You will still see early morning features about the event on local television and broadcast news pool reports covering the ceremony.

Public awareness, of course, is not the point. The fact is less than one-half of one percent of the population today has a family member in active military service. Based on a 2011 Pew poll, 4 out of 5 aged 50 to 70 have a relative – perhaps even a direct relative – who has served in uniform. The numbers drop to 2 out of 5 for those aged 20 to 30. Although current statistics are slim, the younger generation may actually know someone who has or is currently serving. By and large, however, it seems that if the concept of military service is not part of your culture, a meaningful understanding probably does not exist in your daily consciousness.

So what can we be doing to show our support. Events like the Chicago Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade bring together over 10,000 participants from well over 100 organizations. Since there may be no other way that you could know, for example, there are over 6,000 Chicago JROTC cadets -- young men and women -- marching from programs throughout Chicagoland. Here are a few highlights:

Lincoln Park High School Army JROTC will be marching with a 76 member unit, a Color Guard and a 10 member Drum & Bugle Corps. Known as the “Lion’s Battalion” the unit is one of the original JROTC programs established in the city of Chicago in 1916 and today, is a premier International Baccalaureate School with Wall to Wall IB programs.

The Lane Tech College Prep JROTC was established in 1930. The school has over 250 alumni who sacrificed their lives in our nations wars, and they have dedicated a Memorial Garden at Lane Tech in honor of those graduates. Never forget.

The Carl Schurz JROTC “Bulldog Battalion” with 280 cadets is one of the original Chicago JROTC programs, established in 1919. The “Bulldogs” participated in more than 100 school and community events and competitions this year including multiple veterans support events. Service over self.

Edwin G. Foreman College and Career Academy Army JROTC will be marching with 175 of the 415 cadets in their program led by a Color Guard and a 10 Member Drum & Bugle Corps. In case you did not know, Edwin G. Foreman is an outstanding Chicago banker and civic leader. The school first opened in October 1928, as a Junior High School and became a senior high school, graduating the first senior class in 1937. JROTC has been a fixture at Foreman since 1934.

There are dozens of other JROTC units represented in this year’s parade. They are marching alongside veteran’s groups, service organizations, military-themed floats, bands, mounted color guards and one of the largest contingents of antique military vehicles you will ever see. The parade will stop mid-way through for a swearing-in ceremony for the next generation of servicemen and servicewomen.

A personal favorite is the Triple Nickle. The esteemed veterans of this storied battalion known as "The Smokejumpers" will not be marching, but riding in a trolley, a ride they earned a long time ago.

If you are an early riser, you will see a few televised morning features about the ceremony and parade on local television. Jim Frazier will be among those individuals who will be the spokesman telling you about it. He will also tell you when you ask what you can do when you meet a Gold Star Family member, and that all you really ever need to do is ask about who their son or daughter was, what they liked to do and what they wanted to be.

Jim will also tell you that it would be a great time to stop, take a moment and listen to their story. It just might change the way you look at everything.

I can assure you that, in that moment, you will feel their resolve and recognize their unlimited strength of will.

And, then, you will understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Ed Tracy
May 23, 2017



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