Photo: Andrew McMurtrie. Jan Baker waves to the color guard during the Dacula Memorial Day parade Monday in Dacula. The celebratory themed parade included veterans, antique cars, tractors and local groups.
DACULA -- For about five years, retired veteran Staff Sgt. Jeremy Wilczek fought to help keep this country safe.
Wilczek had been sent to Afghanistan once for seven months and twice to Iraq. He retired after he got shot in the ankle six months into his second tour in Iraq in March 2006.
"It was hard being away from your family and you never really know what to expect," Wilczek said. "You don't ever really get used to doing something like that."
For the first time, Wilczek and his family celebrated Memorial Day at the Dacula Memorial Day parade held on Monday. They said they were thrilled to be a part of the parade.
The parade began at the Hebron Church parking lot at 10 a.m. It continued down Dacula Road to Second Avenue and ended at Dacula High School.
This year, the parade consisted of 149 entries, which was an increase from last year's 140 entries. The parade featured floats decked out in red, white and blue and signs commemorating fallen soldiers and veterans.
Wilczek's wife Christina said this year they wanted to lay some roots in Gwinnett and really get involved in the community.
"People need to remember that there are still people fighting overseas right now and this is a great way to remind people of that," Wilczek said.
The parade was put together by parade founder Marvin Atherton. The theme of this year's parade was "Land That I Love," and this was Atherton's 18th year putting together the parade.
Atherton said that the parade was to honor veterans because without them people would not be able to do the things that they do today.
"With each year, the enthusiasm with honoring our veterans for the parade gets better and better," Atherton said. "I'm just trying to reach out to the kids and instill in them what Memorial Day is all about."
Families and friends gathered alongside Dacula Road applauding the different floats that passed by and children ran out to the candy being thrown out by participants of the parade.
Tim Beahan said that this was his fourth year coming to the parade with his family. He said that his two sons took part in the parade representing their Boy Scout troop.
"I think it is good for my kids to develop that kind of patriotism within them and it gives everybody a sense of community," Beahan said.
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