LAWRENCEVILLE - Members of the National Guard's 48th Brigade marched through the city streets Sunday during a welcome-home parade for Lawrenceville's Alpha Company.
Hundreds of cheering Gwinnett residents lined the streets, waving flags and holding homemade signs. More than 100 Alpha Company soldiers, based at Lawrenceville's National Guard Armory, marched in the parade, the unit's first mandatory drill since it left Iraq earlier this summer. A white minivan trailed the soldiers, pulling a calliope decorated in red, white and blue.
About 500 yellow ribbons, created by the Women's Auxiliary of VFW Post 5255, lined the mile-long parade route. As the soldiers entered the final stretch of their march, they passed under a huge American flag draped between the raised ladders of two fire engines.
"It kind of choked you up," Alpha Company commander Capt. Michael Cannon said.
The parade ended at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, where scores of Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles greeted the returning soldiers. Spc. Aaron Jordan of Lawrenceville said he didn't expect so many people to attend the parade, adding that it put "lump in your throat."
A ceremony was held at the Fallen Heroes Memorial to welcome home Alpha Company and remember the seven Gwinnett residents who lost their lives in Iraq. As patriotic music played, the soldiers marched through the crowd and assembled in front of the memorial.
"It was absolutely amazing," said Carolyn Buice, co-founder of the Gwinnett Fallen Heroes Memorial Committee. Gray skies threatened a downpour, but the light drizzle did nothing to discourage the crowd that jammed the area around the memorial.
Gwinnett Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Bannister expressed his thanks to the soldiers of Alpha Company. Although every member of Alpha Company that deployed to Iraq returned home safely, Bannister said it is important not to forget those who did not return.
"It's my sincere prayer we will never have to add another name to our Fallen Heroes Memorial," he said.
Cannon, who has led the company for almost two years, thanked military families for their love and support during the unit's deployment.
"As we train for war, as we do our job ... we leave our families behind," he said. "It's amazing that they take care of things back home."
After the speeches, the families of the Gwinnett solders killed in Iraq came forward to lay a red, white and blue wreath at the base of the Fallen Heroes Memorial.
It finally started to pour, but not until after the ceremony had ended and the crowd dispersed.
"It was a sign of respect to the soldiers," Buice said.