(CBS) – More than 70 years after the end of World War II, federal representatives awarded the Bronze Star and other medals to an Army veteran who fought in the infamous Battle of the Bulge.

Irv Abramson was part of the American force that beat back the Nazis in Germany’s late offensive. A German artillery shell nearly took his life but not his indomitable will to live.

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“I was badly wounded. They were giving me the last rites at one point, but luckily I survived,” Abramson tells CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli.

He was among the military veterans spanning several generations who attended the Memorial Day parade in Arlington Heights, which is one of the largest events of its kind in Illinois.

A contemporary of Abramson’s, Woody Hughes, watched the American flag being raised at Iwo Jima. The Marine Corps veteran said service members didn’t realize they were witnessing such an iconic moment. The battle claimed 7,000 American lives.

“How could I be a hero? I walked off that island. Those who did not walk off that island … those are the heroes,” Hughes says.

An IED in Afghanistan took Jason Smith’s legs, but it didn’t take his memory of the worst moment of his life.

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The 31-year-old father can’t stop thinking of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“The real heroes are the ones who gave everything,” the Army veteran says.

Abramson, the Battle of the Bulge survivor, was awarded his medals later Monday by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.

Also Monday, veterans and their families gathered in a corner of Grant Park to pay tribute to the fallen.

They laid wreaths at a spot that was also decorated by 6,882 American flags — one for each of the U.S. military service members who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.

The Gold Star Families’ Jim Frazier, whose son Jake died 13 years ago, says he wonders what his son and others killed in action would be like today.

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