DeKALB – U.S. Army veteran Robert McCann said that for many Memorial Days he didn’t know how to respond to the phrase, “Thank you for your service.”
From the Ellwood House front porch, McCann addressed dozens of community members as the keynote speaker of Monday’s Memorial Day program. The weather stayed fair long enough for the annual Memorial Day parade to reach its destination at the Ellwood House and for the program to run its course.
Paradegoers were greeted with waves and miniature flags from Mayor Jerry Smith, AMVETS, the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 66 and the DeKalb High School and Clinton Rosette and Huntley Middle School marching bands.
McCann said on any other day, he would respond to “thanks” with “you’re welcome,” but Memorial Day isn’t about the people like him who made it out alive.
“There are folks like me who put on the uniform and take it off,” McCann said. “Today’s about the people who never got to take off the uniform.”
Now, he tells people to think of one of the more than 230 DeKalb veterans who have fallen answering the call of duty or become familiar with one, and to toast to that person during dinner.
“It’s about me imparting upon you the value as I see it about the meaning of this weekend,” McCann said. “Say ‘Lest we forget. Please, remember.’ ”
Sacrifice might be a difficult concept for people to understand, said Phil Young, president of the DeKalb Park District’s board of commissioners, Monday from the Ellwood House porch. However, he said the freedoms those in the audience have are connected to sacrifice.
“Our ability to be here today and to talk freely is a direct result of what our great men and women have bestowed upon us,” Young said. “It is a gift we should forever appreciate, acknowledge and pass on for generations to come so we will never forget the sacrifices they made in the name of freedom.”
Norm Eckstrom, a Korean War veteran and DeKalb resident, said he remembers two names during the annual Memorial Day services.
Eckstrom is an 86-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Korea from 1951 to 1955 and attended the ceremony Monday at the Ellwood House.
The first person, a U.S. Marine named Gordy Reid, lost his life in Korea, and the second, Zack Baker, was too young to get into the U.S. Army during World War II, but was able to get in anyway with the help of his mother, Eckstrom said.
“He was the fastest guy in DeKalb, a runner, but couldn’t get into high school, so he got into the Army,” Eckstrom said. “He lost his life in World War II.”