Bill Dussling thought he had put the hard feelings behind him, decades after he returned home from the unpopular Vietnam War to protests and name-calling.
But when someone finally said, "Welcome home" -- only a year ago -- "My eyes misted over," he said Monday.
"What I did not realize was the profound impact of those two words," said Dussling, who repeated them again and again while addressing veterans during a Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington Heights.
The holiday was marked by tributes to fallen soldiers, veterans and those who continue to serve the country in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. The weather, overcast with a damp chill, seemed to reflect the somber tone at events throughout the Chicago area.
"It's funny, you get people who talk about ... what they're doing on Memorial Day, what barbecue they are going to," said John Pastuovic, spokesman for Chicago Cultural Mile, an association of business leaders.
"The day is really meant to be spent honoring the people who paid the ultimate price."
The group sponsored its 17th annual Memorial Day event in Grant Park on Monday. There, representatives from each branch of the armed services laid a wreath at the foot of the statue of Gen. John A. Logan, who served in the Civil War. Another wreath was presented in honor of fallen firefighters and police in the line of duty.
Deceased firefighters were also honored during an 81st annual Memorial Day parade and Mass at Holy Family Church in Chicago.
In Arlington Heights, hundreds turned out for a parade and ceremony at Memorial Park, which features an Eternal Flame statue and bricks that commemorate veterans.
Residents arrived with kids in strollers, under fleece blankets and umbrellas, many in military caps and uniform.
Also attending was U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who addressed the crowd and gave a special thank you to World War II veterans "for saving our civilization."
Kirk, who has participated in the parade for years, missed last year's event because he was recovering from a stroke.
"This is one of the first parades I have not walked," he said, before taking the stage. The senator, who decorated his four-pronged cane and leg brace with camouflage tape, traveled the parade route by car this time.
Arlington Heights has lost 58 soldiers in battle, dating back to the Civil War, officials said. They read aloud the names of each one, as well as all 170 veterans who died within the past year.
Some family members rang a bell after their loved one's name was called.
Among them were Arlington Heights residents Bob and Linda Stack. Their son, Lance Cpl. James Bray Stack, was shot and killed in November 2010 while in the Marines in Afghanistan.
"It's very symbolic," Bob Stack said of the ceremony, which was followed with a 21-gun salute.
When their son's body was returned to his hometown, the "whole town stopped" to honor him, said Linda Stack.
"It's very much appreciated," Bob Stack said.