While the Veterans Commission has been recognizing fallen soldiers in solemn ceremony since 1974, this year's Memorial Day program on May 28 featured a first-time event.
It was the first time the commission erected a Killed in Action (KIA) monument, or battlefield cross, in front of the crowd, mimicking the ritual that takes place when a soldier is killed on the battlefield.
The sun shone brightly and a breeze blew softly over the hushed audience as servicemen arranged a pair of boots, rifle, a dog tag and a helmet in front of the podium. As they would have done had it been a soldier who lost his life in combat, the soldiers stood around the display and saluted, while the names of fallen comrades were acknowledged in a roll call.
Tinley Park's hour-long Memorial Day ceremony was carried out in much that same tone — with respect, reverence and rememberance that attendees said were due to anyone who gave his or her life for the country.
Eva Reyes-Seitz, past president of the Ladies Auxiliary for VFW Post 2791, has been attending Tinley Park ceremonies for the past six years to honor her father, some of her brothers and her nephew.
“It's to support the veterans and to remember those who did not come home,” she said. “As Americans, we have to show the rememberance and reverence to them, so it's important for me to be here.”
Each year, the ceremony gives special recognition to a particular war or conflict. This year, the commission chose the heroes of the Cold War, said Wiley Roberts, Chairman of the Veterans Commission.
“We stand in the midst of patriots and the families and friends of those who served,” Roberts said. “They didn't go to war because they loved fighting. They went to war to join a cause greater than themselves.”
The ceremony's speaker was Edward McCollugh, a submarine veteran who summarized the intricacies of fighting a battle completely unseen, followed by the KIA Ceremony, the customary 21-Gun Salute and the playing of “Taps.” Patriotic music was provided throughout the program by the Victor J. Andrew High School Band.
For U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard Matega, the Memorial Day ceremony is an essential for acknowledging the dedication and loyalty of American soldiers.
“We should never forget,” said Matega, who served in the Corps 1974 through 1978 at the end of Vietnam War. “It's not just a day off from school or work, it's a day to remember. And we should really remember every day.”