Many enjoy Memorial Day as an opportunity to host cookouts, picnics and family gatherings, but a crowd of approximately 75 gathered at the Park District of Forest Park Monday to pay tribute to the men and women for whom the holiday is dedicated.

Led by Master of Ceremonies Floyd Schultz of the American Legion Post 414 and Howard “Bud” Boy of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7181, the 45 minute ceremony commemorated veterans who have given their lives to preserve freedom.

Mayor Anthony Calderone and Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl of the 1st Cavalry Division gave speeches recognizing the patriotism, selflessness and courage shown by veterans. Both called on Americans to remember and honor such service.

“I think every Memorial Day is an opportunity to pause and reflect on really the meaning behind the day,” Calderone said. “It’s about taking time to think about all those men and women that came before us serving in our armed forces so that we can be the free country that we are today. It’s a very inspiring time.”

During his address, Bleichwehl shared the story of Spc. Ross McGinnis, a Pennsylvania native. McGinnis was serving as a machine gunner with the 26th Infantry Regiment in Adhamiyah, Iraq. During the course of a mounted patrol, an insurgent threw a grenade into McGinnis’ Humvee. Without hesitation, the 20-year-old threw himself over the explosive, saving the lives of four of his Army brothers, according to Bleichwehl.

“The choice for Ross was simple, but simple does not mean easy,” Bleichwehl said, reading a statement issued by the fallen soldier’s parents. “His straightforward answer to a simple but difficult choice should stand as a shining example for the rest of us. We all face simple choices, but how often do we choose to make a sacrifice to the get the right answer? The right choice sometimes requires honor.”

McGinnis, who was honored with 11 Army decorations, is one of many profiles in courage that resonates with Boy.

“The sacrifice that Private McGinnis made for our country, a thing like that makes you remember,” Boy, who served in Germany during the 1950s, said. “His story is just one out of hundreds of thousands of stories that go on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Beirut and other places.”

The Memorial Day service included a moment of silence and the presentation of a wreath in front of the American flag by Schultz, Boy and Calderone.

“I had three relatives who served in World War II, plus I served myself,” former Forest Park resident Chuck Sergo said. “Even if I had not served in the military, I would still come to this event because I love my country.”

Forest Park Middle School student Nicole Evans played a stirring rendition of “Taps.”

“I thought that was awesome,” Calderone said of Evans’ performance. “That was probably one of, if not the best, renditions of ‘Taps’ that I have heard at least during my nine years [as mayor].”

On Monday morning, the VFW and American Legion members visited Forest Home Cemetery to place wreaths at the Grand Army of the Republic and the Veterans Triangle.

With salutes, handshakes, hugs and more than a few tears as the protocol of the day, Boy’s only disappointment was that more people didn’t share in the display of patriotism.

“It was a sparse crowd and that’s a shame,” he said. “[But] we’re happy. As the program progressed, you could see people filtering in and that’s good.”