MAPLE PARK – About 600 people gathered Monday in front of 1,000 American flags to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Two thousand more flags were set up throughout the Kaneland campus.
A Memorial Day ceremony was held on the Kaneland High School grounds north of the Healing Field along Keslinger Road. The field consisted of 1,000 flags, several of which had yellow tags attached to them containing messages that people left for veterans. Between the ceremony and the high school building was a crane that had a large American flag raised about 100 feet in the air.
The Elburn, Sugar Grove and Maple Park American Legions each had their own Memorial Day morning ceremonies, but the afternoon ceremony was a chance for all of them to come together with the Kaneland High School band and staff, said Rudy Keller, the school's interim athletic director and an organizer of the event.
"The Fourth of July is to celebrate, Veterans Day is to honor, but Memorial Day is to mourn," Keller said during the event.
Don Grillo, commander of the Maple Park American Legion, gave a Memorial Day address and read aloud the names of 12 local fallen heroes. That list included three Kaneland High School alumni, who all served in the U.S. Army – Sgt. Robert Domena, a 1990 graduate; specialist Edwin Turk Jr., a 1962 graduate and specialist Richard Wormdahl, a 1963 graduate.
Every veteran at the ceremony was invited to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony for his or her specific branch of the military. About 25 veterans emerged from the crowd to participate, including U.S. Army veteran Hank Grytza of Michigan. Grytza was in town to visit his son Scott's family in Elburn.
"It was very moving," Grytza said of the ceremony.
Grytza said it's important for people to realize that their freedom came from great sacrifices. Another one of his five sons, Tom, is retired after serving 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, including Operation Desert Storm.
Dennis and Sue Golden of Rochelle also were at the event. Dennis Golden is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Germany during the Vietnam War. Golden sat next to her sister and fellow Rochelle resident Karen Pearson, who brought all her children and grandchildren.
Golden and Pearson said they always have attended area Memorial Day services. Monday also was a family reunion of sorts – Pearson's daughter, Mary Kunstman, and her husband, Bryan, both teach music in the Kaneland School District.
Golden and Pearson's father, Calvin Strang, was a World War veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps and the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force. Strang led a small Memorial Day service in Lindenwood for about 50 years, Pearson said.
"He's just instilled in us that this is important," Pearson said. "It's just something that we have to do as a family."
On the Web Visit KCChronicle.com to view a photo list from the Kaneland Memorial Day ceremony.