Memorial Day weekend is the gateway to summer, a time for looking ahead, and this year that's taken on added meaning. On this holiday, downtown Naperville was bustling and brimming with hope.
"It's definitely a high energy vibe we got going on. Everybody seems to be happy getting out of the houses finally," Jason Fountain said.
At Top Fashion, the future seemed as bright as the colors of the sneakers. After a year-long delay - in part because of the pandemic - the store finally had its grand opening on Saturday.
"We had a line wrapping around the corner and going down the block. Same thing on Sunday," said Zain Qureshi, co-owner, Top Fashion. "Support was there, and I guess people are ready to shop. People are kind of ready to get back to their normal lives."
And for many, normal means being on the move. TSA reported a nearly five-fold increase in Memorial Day weekend air travel over last year.
At the Hinsdale Oasis, the Banks family of Crete stocked up before heading to Wisconsin, their first trip in more than a year.
"It's like fresh air," Zoretha Banks said. "It opened up perfectly because my twins' birthday is June 1st, and we get to enjoy life."
Norreen and Tom Klemens, who were returning from their son's wedding, said their plans were uncertain just a few weeks ago.
"When they planned it in March, April who knew? The timing has worked out very, very well," Tom Klemens said.
In fact, the timing is perfect. In Chicago, beaches were once again crowded and the city's lakefront is back open for people to enjoy. Many families and friends gathered together over a hot grill.
"This is one of the best feelings, just to be able to share the love. This is a real great feeling to be able to spend time with my boys," Wayne Jackson said.
"It's a good feeling being around good people because the vibes are always real. It's a blessing really," Will Walls said.
"Just a blessing to still be here and be with your family and friends and just try to make the best of it," Kyle Lewis added.
Over the holiday weekend, Chicago's iconic Navy Pier fully reopened to the public, once again attracting crowds of locals and tourists after its winter hiatus.
"This is the place to be when you're checking out some of the important places in Chicago," said Brandy Fontenot, an active-duty Naval service member who was recently stationed at Great Lakes with her family.
"We're going to ride the Ferris wheel, see if maybe we can catch a boat, have some good food, a couple of drinks," Fontenot said.
For her, Memorial Day holds an extra special meaning.
"Today is remembering those that gave the ultimate sacrifice to serve their country, so I'm just proud to be able to serve my country actively right now," she said.
She and her family understand what is a day off for many came at a great price for others.
"We remember those that lost their lives so we could have days like today and enjoy what they can't any longer," Fontenot said.
WATCH | Memorial Day Parade returns to Naperville
The Naperville American Legion Post 43 will hold a downsized Memorial Day Parade starting at 9 a.m. and make stops for services at Naperville cemeteries : Dandelion Fountain; Commander Dan Shanower 9/11 Memorial; Naperville cemetery; Veterans Park; Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery; and the Spirit of the American Doughboy statue. The final stop for the parade is at Central Park, where the event will wrap up with attributes and a concert at noon.
Parade-goers said that that they were grateful the parade is back this year. Last year's parade was canceled due to COVID-19, but this year, the community was able to show up in person to pay tribute.
The parade route was only for veterans and servicemen and women this year, who marched as Naperville residents gathered to thank them and remember the fallen.
"My dad's brother we actually lost in Vietnam, so it's a holiday that means a lot to our family and just want to honor those that have fought for us," said parade-goer Candice Collison.
Bill Archer, an Army veteran, remembered his service in Vietnam and those he knew who didn't come home.
"Today is a wonderful day for remembering those...I have friends, people in my command that were lost and I think about it all the time, especially today," Archer said.
Last year, the pandemic forced parade organizers to cancel. This year, the route was scaled back, allowing for a few bands to stay in place and salute veterans as they walked past.
Veteran Jim Sarns was heartened to see normalcy returning.
"Today is wonderful, you know, we can finally shake hands, talk to each other enter places without masks this is the way it should be," Sarns said.
Memorial Day in Naperville has been commemorated since 1928. Veterans from every branch of service participate.
Veterans organizations and high school bands paid tribute along with spectators waving American flags, passing on what this day means to their children.
"It's not about the picnics and the start of summer and the barbecue, it's about remembering the folks that gave their lives so that we can get out and do the picnics and barbecus and stuff," said Naperville Memorial Day Parade Committee Chairman Tom Parker.
Veterans asked people to observe one minute of silence at 3 p.m. as the whole nation pauses to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
WATCH | Aurora pays tribute to Gold Star families
One by one, Aurora's Gold Star families and friends walked past to lay flowers at the city's memorial to those who have given their lives while in service to this country. One by one, they reflected on their loved ones' loss.
"Thank you for coming out. And just don't forget. Don't forget about any of them. Not just mine, but all of them," said Martha Lopez, the mother of Eduardo Lopez.
The families representing the six most recent service members to have made that ultimate sacrifice gathered at Phillips Park, including 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Hector Ramos, who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2005, while his brother, Noah, was also serving.
"He was just energetic, full of love, his character was just positive. He's just one of those spontaneous guys, you know, who will always to the right thing and stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves," Noah Ramos said. ""I knew as long as I was breathing that my brother didn't go down for nothing. You know, I've lost friends that were in the unit with me, too. You lose a brother, but you gain more family in the service. It's never easy."
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, a veteran himself, declaring each of the six's birthdays as days of remembrance in the city.
"You just get to cope with it. You get to understand it. And all you can do is embrace the moments you had with them and embrace the moments that you have like today, that people continue to remember him," said Juan De La Torre, brother of Jesse De La Torre.
Aurora's memorial wall includes the names of 51 men and women killed in the line of duty since the Korean War. Only one has yet to be added - that of 21-year-old Miguel Villalon, killed in Afghanistan last year.
WATCH | Hundreds gather to remember fallen soldiers in Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates
One of the largest Memorial Day ceremonies in the Chicago area was in Schaumburg, where hundreds gathered to remember those who did not make it home from America's wars.
"Let me tell you, I am 91 years old right now and I have forgotten what it felt like in those days, but I never thought people would revere people like us in this day and age," said Gordon Stanley, a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Korea.
But they did in Schaumburg, the seat of northwest suburban expansion in Chicago, to salute the lives given to this country in combat. Marine Corps veteran Robert M. Healy remembered an attack on his 60mm gun emplacement in Korea.
"They got a direct hit on the gun, and I got saved," Healy said, adding that he thinks about the men he was with every day.
A traditional program of military protocol and prayers at 175-year-old St. Peter Lutheran Church asked people to remember after the laying of wreaths earlier at the Hoffman Estates Police Department, where people gathered from all over to give thanks for a common cause.
"We are Americans and we are here to honor the brave men and women of the armed forces of the United States for their service and sacrifice that we are living in peace and prosperity," said Rajinder Singh Mago, Sikh Religious Society of the NW Suburbs.
Traditional martial music from the different branches elicited salutes and appreciation - even from the youngest in attendance.
"It made me feel good in that they help save our country," said Nora Murashko, age 9.
"This day isn't for veterans. I know they celebrate veterans, but it is for the ones that never came home," said Bob Royce, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam.
Arlington Heights has traditionally hosted a parade of 3,000 marchers with thousands of viewers. This year, the town is displaying the names of all 58 of Arlington's fallen heroes in homes and storefront windows. The village has also created a video for people to view.
There will be a drive-by salute, with people being asked to drive by Memorial Park from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
In Vernon Hills, the American Legion post 1247 will have three ceremonies. The first ceremony will be at Vernon Township Cemetery at 9 a.m., followed by one at Willow Lawn Memorial Park at 10 a.m. and at the Vernon Hills Memorial Arbortheater at 11 a.m. Social distancing will be observed at each ceremony.
The Elgin Patriotic Memorial Association and the city of Elgin will be holding several observances, including a 9:15 a.m. ceremony at Lakewood Memorial Park, 30W730 RT 20. There will be a program at Elgin's Veterans Memorial Park, 274 N. Grove Ave, with a program paying tribute to veterans interred at sea. At 11 a.m., a ceremony will be held at the Bluff City Cemetery, 945 Bluff City Blvd., which will pay tribute to the 30th Anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. Students will continue the tradition of reading President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and General John Logan's orders which established Memorial Day. For more information, visit https://www.elginmemorialday.org/.
Elmhurst has cancelled its parade this year, but will have a convoy of first responder service and military vehicles, starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Veterans memorial in Wilder Park, 175 S. Prospect Ave and ending at 11 a.m. with a ceremony at the memorial.
St. Charles will hold a ceremony at 9:30 a.m. at the Freedom Shrine along the river west of the former police station at 211 N. Riverside Ave.
River Forest has canceled its parade and will instead hold an observance at 10 a.m. at the Memorial Parkway at 7497 Lake Street.
Winnetka will hold an observance from 10-11 a.m. at its Village Green Park, 525 Maple Street. The green will be split into four sections with limited attendees and participants must register in advance.
Batavia will be holding an outdoor ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Batavia Veterans of Foreign Wars at 645 S. River St.
Berwyn will hold three Memorial Day observances. The first will be at 11 a.m. at Lesak Park. The second will be held at 11:20 a.m. at Berwyn City Hall, 6700 W. 26th St. The final ceremony will take place at Mount Auburn Cemetery, 4101 S. Oak Park Ave., at 12:30 p.m.
The Carol Stream Park District and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10296 will hold a ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Plaza.
Orland Park will hold a ceremony at Ara Place or "Place of Peace" outside of its village hall, 14700 S. Ravinia Ave. at 11 a.m. There will be a wreath-laying ceremony, addresses by community veterans and a reading of the names of 55 veterans on the village's granite memorial wall.
Lake Villa will hold a parade starting at noon at Palombi Middle School, 133 McKinley Ave.
The Hammond Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7881 and American Legion post 232 will host a Memorial Day ceremony at 9 a.m. at Hessville Park, Kennedy Ave. and 173rd St.
Whiting will hold a Memorial Day ceremony at the Whiting Post 80, 2003 Indianapolis Blvd., with speeches and a 21-gun salute. There will be coffee and donuts at 9:30 a.m. before the ceremony starts at 11 a.m.
American Legion post 261 will host a parade at 10 a.m. beginning in the parking lot of Sandbar Grill, 13118 NE Lake Shore Dr. There will be a ceremony at 11 a.m. at 13000 Fairbanks St. and at 1:30 p.m., a patriotic mural will be unveiled at 13050 Washington St.
The Lions Club of Ogden Dunes will hold a Memorial Day car parade at 10 a.m. starting on the corner of Diana Road and Deer Trail.
The Merrillville Fire Department will lead a parade beginning at 10:15 a.m. at the fire station at 24 W 73rd Ave, and end at the Merrillville Cemetery, 720 E. 73rd Ave. A service will take place at the Merrillville Legion Post 430 at 11:30 a.m.
Crown Point will hold a parade beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the intersection of Joliet and Main streets with an 11 a.m. ceremony at Maplewood Cemetery, 555 S. Indiana Ave.
American Legion post 260 will host a ceremony at noon at Founders Square Park, 300 S. Founders Square.