On Friday, about 200 volunteers placed over 40,000 American flags on the gravesites of veterans at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
Monday will be the 20th time the cemetery will host a Memorial Day ceremony to recognize and honor fallen members of the military.
The holiday, formerly was known as Decoration Day, was first enacted to honor Union and Confederate soldiers after the Civil War. After World War I, the holiday was extended to include Americans who have died in all wars.
Christine Gutzeit, the cemetery's program specialist, said the volunteers had decorated all the graves on the cemetery grounds within a few hours on Friday morning.
"It's very satisfying serving the veterans and their families," Gutzeit said.
For the actual ceremony on Memorial Day, anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 come out to visit the gravesites of loved ones and hear from the keynote speaker, which this year will be Medal of Honor recipient Allen Lynch.
For many like Tony Mehok, 70, of Homer Glen, Memorial Day is a great opportunity to give back to veterans who served and sacrificed. Mehok served in the Army Reserves for six years and is now a Memorial Squad volunteer. Every week, he and his fellow volunteers help render final military honors for the interment of veterans at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. He said many of the volunteers for the interments and for the Memorial Day decorations have either served themselves, had a loved one who served or just want to pay their respects.
"The common thread is emotion and respect for the veterans," Mehok said.
The Memorial Squad provides the color guard for the Memorial Day ceremony. He said the color guard has been growing and developing as they've tried to participate in ceremonies outside of Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, such as at the South Side Irish Parade in Chicago this year.
Mehok said that for him and the other volunteers, participating in the cemetery's Memorial Day ceremony is a great opportunity to recognize and show gratitude to veterans. He said that's especially so for Vietnam War veterans, because, since that was the era he served in, he remembers those service members didn't always get the recognition they deserved.
"This is what these people spent a chunk of their life doing," Mehok said. "And it was for us."