'We owe them': Thousands turn out to honor soldiers, veterans at parade

DACULA - Sacrifice and freedom.

Those are two words we need to remember, said Marvin Atherton, the founder of the annual Dacula Memorial Day Parade.

"We owe them to our veterans," Atherton said, minutes before the parade passed by the Gwinnett County fire station on Dacula Road.

Thousands of people lined the parade route to watch the 15th annual event. Classic cars, restored military vehicles, tractors and floats carrying beauty queens, scouts, sports teams and church groups passed by the crowds this year.

Lawrenceville resident Sam Defir and his wife, Teri, brought their son, 6-year-old Joshua, to the parade so he would learn what Memorial Day is all about - "the soldiers who gave their lives so we could have freedom," Defir said.

Atherton said he tries to gear the event toward the children so they can learn why it's important to honor our veterans.

"I try to do my part to instill what Memorial Day really is," Atherton said. "It's not just a barbecue day. It's not just a pool day."

Pfc. Tyler Hinton, a graduate of Dacula High School, rode in the parade this year to honor his brother, Spc. Ryan Hinton, who is finishing up a tour in Iraq.

Tyler Hinton said he joined the military because he loves this country and he wanted to give back in some way. He said he enjoyed the parade.

"Everyone is proud to see the people who have served," he said.

Although all of the current and former servicemen and servicewomen received applause, the World War II veterans were given standing ovations.

Hoschton resident George Baker said he enjoyed seeing the veterans who rode in the parade.

"You don't get to see them (World War II veterans) every day," he said.

Roberta resident Jim Horne said he came to Dacula to visit his daughter, Jill Clay, and 11/2-year-old grandson.

Horne served in the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1970. He said he's gone to Memorial Day ceremonies in Roberta, but they don't have a parade.

"It's a way to get out and enjoy being an American," Horne said.