ELWOOD – Each year at Elwood Consolidated Grade School, eighth-grade students participate in an essay contest, titled “What Memorial Day Means to Me.”
Two students were selected to read their essays Monday during the 18th Annual Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, in front of a few thousand people gathered to honor fallen military veterans. Master of Ceremonies Nick Thomas said it took many nights to read through the students’ entries and decide on just two because they were so well-written.
“From 1776 to the present, our armed forces have been there fighting for the homeland whenever threatened,” eighth-grader Jacob Winkler said, adding veterans fought from the Saratoga forests to the jungles of Vietnam. “All veterans deserve two simple words that mean the world to them: thank you.”
Fellow eighth-grader Bella Campagnolo admitted she never really thought about the meaning of Memorial Day until writing her essay, but it was then she realized how selfless the fallen military veterans were, to give up so much to protect others’ freedoms.
“Some people may not realize what these veterans have fought for, and how confident and willing they were with the unpredictability of what might happen,” Campagnolo said. “They spent immense amounts of time away from their relatives and close friends. All the soldiers could do was keep their heads high and keep remembering that everything they did would benefit their loved ones back home.”
Thomas asked members of the audience to raise their hands if it was their first time attending. A portion of the crowd raised their hands.
“You’re going to leave here a changed person after you’ve been here,” Thomas said.
Vehicles lined the cemetery’s winding roads, and hundreds had to park in designated grass lots and walk to the main ceremony area, while some sat by the graves of loved ones during the proceedings.
The Elwood eighth-graders were followed by singers from Coal City Intermediate School, who sang “This Flag We Fly,” “It’s Been A Long Time Since I Saw You” and “You Are Our Heroes.”
Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Executive Director Sean Baumgartner took a moment to thank all the volunteers who dedicate time to the cemetery throughout the year, noting they could volunteer their time anywhere else, but they chose Lincoln Cemetery. But he said he wished more veterans knew about the cemetery’s burial options.
The ceremony featured a timeline of people wearing military uniforms from every era of America – from the Civil War, to World Wars I and II and into the 1990s and 2000s.
Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln re-enactors Max and Donna Daniels made remarks, as well as U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville.