It stepped off with a special guest grand marshal: Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus.
Petraeus was in Chicago to commemorate the lives of service members who fought and died in the Iraq War.
This year's Memorial Day Parade, held on a bright, warm Saturday, was not only dedicated to all the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States; there was a special tribune for the soldiers who fought and died in the Iraq War.
"Our country has united around what we can call now I think rightly the new Greatest Generation," said Petraeus. "It's the young men and women who have served in our armed forces."
Petraeus also praised Chicago's Memorial Day observations.
"The tribute that this city provides to our fallen is again unequaled throughout our country," said Petraeus. Of serving as grand marshal of the parade, Petraeus said "it's a huge thrill. The mayor, 'Hizzoner', hit me up in Washington a couple of months ago at some event, and I said I would be honored to do it. I've always been impressed by this city."
Before the parade, the retired Army general addressed the many who gathered at Daley Plaza to acknowledge those who have died in defense of our country.
Governor Pat Quinn also received a special award for his support of Illinois's servicemen, servicewomen and veterans.
"The best way that we can remember Memorial Day is to make every day Memorial Day and make sure we take good care of those who have borne the battle," said Quinn.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also made comments at the gathering.
"This is the first Memorial Day since the war in Iraq, and 3,500 fellow Americans gave their all," said Emanuel.
The mayor's praise coincides with the city's opening of two veterans offices intended to help service members return to civilian life. Emanuel announced a new Returning Veterans initiative" Saturday to help veterans find jobs, health care and other services. The city will open a veterans employment center, as well as a new resource office to help veterans with disabilities. There is no date yet on when the programs take effect.
Mementos of respect were presented to the Gold Star families, those who have lost a loved one to war.
Eva Hawking lost her 25-year-old son, Marine Corporal Nicholas Daniels, last year in Afghanistan.
"This doesn't change anything, but it makes you proud of what we're doing here for them," said Hawking. "He would be very proud of us that we're keeping his memory alive and for all, all the fallen soldiers."
After the traditional wreath laying, buglers performed a special rendition of Taps to commemorate the 150th anniversary of America's anthem of the war dead.
Presently, however, the solemn dedications were replaced by celebration as the city's Memorial Day Parade headed down State Street.
"I do my part just like everybody else, you know, just so we can have our freedoms," said U.S. Army Specialist Gonzolo Burciaga.
The 2012 parade was dedicated to the soldiers who fought and died in the Iraq War.
"It's just not enough to say thank you," said Fler Kirksey, who attended the parade. "We don't say thank you enough."
Considered one of the largest Memorial Day parades, the event features dozens of military marching bands, veterans groups and floats, including ABC7's.
"It's awesome. It's a real warm crowd, it's a beautiful day, and it's exceeded any expectations we ever had," said spectator Art Lux.military veterans returning to chicago ... will soon get extra help from the city to transition back to civilian life. mayor rahm emanuel announced