ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Memorial Day has been around for more than 150 years. It was originally called Decoration Day in the wake of the US Civil War.
Last year, the pandemic put many tributes on hold. This time, Downtown Rockford’s streets were filled with one tradition.
Veterans in the crowd tell Alexis Carpello that the message is personal.
“I know of several people that didn’t make it,” said Vietnam Veteran Willie Evans.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who died while serving our country and fighting to keep us free. Vietnam Veteran Willie Evans, wounded three times during combat, honors those who didn’t return home with him.
“What I do is a memorial to them because I can look back and know at times where I thought I wouldn’t make it,” said Evans.
He, along with other Veterans like Larry Flower, remember their friends that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“I’ve had many friends throughout all the services give their lives to protect us and our freedoms,” said Fowler.
Just one piece of Fowler’s tribute was showing up for the parade and ceremony at Rockford’s Memorial Hall.
“I just hope everybody takes time on this day to remember our fellow service members that are past and current,” he said.
“To me, every day is a memorial that I have for them because I can smell something, I can see something I can hear something, and it’ll take me back and I can remember what it was like,” added Evans.
While you are celebrating with family and friends, Evans says the day comes as a somber day for veterans and families that have lost loved ones.
“Everybody that went before me, the guys that I served with, the guys that didn’t make it back, the guys that still haven’t come back all of that comes into mind,” said Evans.
He vows to never forget – not only today, but every day.
Memorial Day events continued on the Rock River with the annual Sinking of the Ship. The tradition honors sailors who lost their lives.
“Navy Club Ship # 1” in Rockford has hosted the event for nearly 30 years. Organizers say it’s another way to remember those who sacrificed everything for our freedom.
“It’s quite a tradition for us. I’m a Vietnam vet and Navy wife, so I feel very honored to be part of this because my husband was on one of those ships that could’ve been bombarded, so it’s a very touching thing,” said Cathie Seymour, Commander Auxiliary of Ship #1.
Organizers say Winnebago County has the only Navy Club that actually sinks the ships to honor these sailors.
The Land of Lincoln’s second-largest Memorial Day parade takes place right here in the Stateline.
Pecatonica community members showed up in droves to honor the fallen.
Cars, new and classic, decked out in American flags rounded the streets.
One parade-goer we spoke with says she takes time each Memorial Day to remember her cousin who never made it home from Vietnam.
“It means a lot to me because this is how I can honor my cousin that fought he was only 21 when he was killed, so it means a lot to me about that,” said Jackie Schumacher.
Pecatonica is also hosting a Memorial Day carnival on W. Third Street and Main which runs until 7:00 p.m