Local ceremonies honor those who serve

November 11, 2009 (CHICAGO) Thousands turned out to honor the men and women who have fought and died and those who continue to fight to protect our freedoms.

Volunteers with flowers for heroes placed red, white and blue flowers on each of the 15,800 gravesites at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill.

Gold Star Family Tom and Linda Pahnke lost their son, Shawn in Iraq in 2003.

"Shawn loved this country so much and he was a peacemaker," Linda Pahnke said.

"He actually was the first casualty of the First Armored Division in Iraq," Tom Pahnke said.

Millie Harris Hickey lost her son Joshua William Harris in 2008 in Afghanistan. He was only there for three weeks.

"It's very hard but my son was very proud to be a soldier," Millie Harris Hickey said.

Hundreds showed up for the ceremony at the cemetery. Miss Illinois sang the national anthem and the National Guard Blackhawk helicopter flew at approximately 11:10 a.m.

Governor Quinn also participated in the event.

"I think it's a glorious day -- a very special day in our state and our country," Quinn said.

"Every morning I get up and look at the red, white and blue, and I think of my son. He's a true American hero," William Harris said.

They were there to pay homage, respect, and gratitude to the men and women who have served our country and continue to serve. One visitor said every day should be Veterans Day, not just one day of the year.

Marine veteran Chad Watson, 26, lost his leg in Iraq in 2006 and says it is important to remember the contributions of our soldiers.

"It's important to me because, one, it's important to pay respects to so many war veterans," Watson said.

"These are the people who sacrifice their lives, who take times out of their lives and volunteer to defend their country, to protect our freedoms," said Major General William Enyart, Illinois National Guard.

Chicago celebration

In Chicago, veterans shared their stories of service at a celebration at Soldier Field.

Servicemen and woman and civilians gathered for speeches and a wreath ceremony in honor of the local troops who have served the country in both in peace and war time.

Some of the veterans reflected on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- saying the wars can be won with a simple strategy.

"We get caught up into things to make life right in other places and in all places, and if we can do it with more of an emphasis on peace instead of war efforts, I think that we have a chance," said WWII veteran Edward Douglas.

Naperville's Healing Field of Honor

It was a dramatic show of patriotism as 2009 flags changed the landscape of Rotary Hill.

A closer look at the flagpoles revealed many have personalized messages attached.

It's been turned into a so-called Healing Field of Honor, to pay tribute to the men and women who have served or are currently serving in the military.

"I think it's fantastic, really. It's heartwarming," said World War II veteran Daniel Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn transported troops to the shores of Omaha Beach on D-Day.

He says he's grateful for this display of appreciation for his service, as is Tom Michel, an Air Force pilot who flew missions during Vietnam.

"It's heart stopping to know that so many people honor our soldiers, sailors and marines that served," Michel said.

Veterans also came out for the rededication of a Civil War-era cannon in Central Park. There, they were thanked for their service and dedication to their country.

"To me, it's astonishing how people can work with you one day, then go off to harm's way the next day," said State Rep. Kirk Dillard, (R) Hinsdale.

"We all wrote a blank check to our nation for up to including our lives," said Navy veteran Ralph Fisher.

At the Healing Field of Honor, younger generations were witnessing the impact veterans have made on the country's history.

"We also know that there's a lot of people who have died in wars and we still care about them," said student Deanna Marcimiak.

The flags and yellow cards are for sale. The money raised will benefit an extended stay facility for families at Hines VA center.

The flags will stay up though Saturday.

In the U.S., Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War One.

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