A century of remembrance: Arlington Heights prepares for 100th memorial parade
A century ago, Arlington Heights residents welcomed home their heroes returning from World War I with a parade and ceremony.
The event turned into an annual occasion, eventually moving to Memorial Day and becoming an enduring tradition to remember and honor the town's fallen heroes.
This May 27, on the parade's centennial, organizers have planned to mark the occasion in a big way: with the distribution of 5,000 commemorative coins for fallen hero families, veterans, active military and supporters; the landing of an Illinois National Guard helicopter; and the production of a video about how Arlington Heights has marked Memorial Day through the years.
"Our town has been so committed over these 100 years," said Greg Padovani, a village trustee and chairman of the Veterans Memorial Committee of Arlington Heights. "The video is not only to tell people about Memorial Day but actually serve as a historical documentation for our town for the future. The same with the coin -- it's to mark this event but also provide people in the future with 'here's what we learned and did in 2019.'
"We see this as a historic marker hopefully for people to be able to look back and say, 'Hey, this is great.'"
The parade on the last Monday of May is perhaps the largest in the suburbs, typically hosting about 90 marching units with some 3,000 participants -- and at least twice that number watching from sidewalks and parkways. Already, 110 entries have registered, with at least 3,500 marchers expected, Padovani said.
The parade is scheduled to step off from village hall at 9:30 a.m. and follow a route that will end at Memorial Park. An 11 a.m. ceremony will include the annual reading of names of area veterans who died in the previous year, plus the names of 58 Arlington Heights residents who died in the service from the Civil War to the war in Afghanistan.
To mark the special anniversary, Padovani came up with the idea of the commemorative coin. Fellow committee member and village Trustee Mike Sidor took the project under his wing to find someone to design it, enlist a veteran-owned company to make it, and then help raise funds to pay for it.
The design features the eternal flame sculpture at Memorial Park on one side and the parade theme "Arlington Remembers" on the other. Plans are for active-duty military to walk the parade route, hand out the coins to veterans and give a salute. Coins that remain at the end of the day will be available at Memorial Park.
Padovani already has distributed some coins, including to relatives of those who died in the war in Afghanistan.
"You can't describe the emotion how much it means to receive the coins and remembering their fallen hero," Padovani said. "People are treasuring the coin."
During the parade, a National Guard helicopter is expected to land in Recreation Park next to the American Legion post at 10 a.m. It will be open for tours until about 2 or 3 p.m.
A subcommittee also is putting finishing touches on the 8-minute Memorial Day video scheduled to air in May on the village cable access channels and village and park district websites. The video will start with a history of how the parade began: on Sept. 6, 1919, as the homecoming for Arlington Heights residents who returned from the war.
Researchers scoured the archives of the Daily Herald, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library and the Arlington Heights Historical Society for photos and stories of past parades and ceremonies.
One previous speaker, a rear admiral, referred to Arlington Heights' annual commemoration as a "Norman Rockwell experience."
"That's back then," Padovani said of the black-and-white archived photos, "and this is now, and the difference is it's in color, but you can still tell the town is that Norman Rockwell experience."