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Above the solemn crowd gathered to pay its respects the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, seemingly only at the most appropriate of times–during a moment of silence for departed comrades, and for the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Children sat on the grass before a makeshift stage, and park benches were filled with veterans, their friends and family members.

“Today is a day of pride and sadness,” Commander David Serafini of American Legion Post 414 said in opening Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at the Park District.

Some listened with closed eyes, their heads hung low in reverence, some wore somber faces, and others sat upright, alert and unmoving.

“For many, Memorial Day signals summer’s arrival,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said, standing before a large American flag. “But more importantly, Memorial Day is one of our nation’s most solemn observances. On this sacred day, we honor those Americans who died fighting for our freedom.”

Ellie Clifton, a German native and 40-year resident of Forest Park, makes a point of attending the annual ceremony each year.

“Memorial Day is one of those events you really want to participate in,” Clifton said. “It’s a day you set aside to express the gratitude you feel every day for those who fought in a war.”

Clifton’s father served in World War II, and Clifton herself is acquainted with several members of the Forest Park Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts.

This year for the first time, members of the Civil Air Patrol lent their support to the day’s ceremonies. Members of the Forest Park police and fire departments were also in attendance.

Rev. Charles Cairo, who served six years in the U.S. Air Force, led the group in a benediction to close out the services. Cairo lamented the number of war veterans that die each day, nearly 1,800 people, in addition to those who have recently died in Iraq.

“We are dying veterans,” Cairo said.

A 21 titanium salute rang out like thunder in the quiet park.