Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Living reenactment historians Tommy Jackson, left, Ricky Jones, left center, Tipp Corbin, right center, and Robert Saye take a break from the heat after marching in the 19th annual Dacula Memorial Day parade in downtown Dacula on Monday. Jackson and Corbin are Navy veterans of Desert Storm.
DACULA -- In the gaps between the roar of a police motorcade and the siren of a fire truck were giggles from children who lined the 19th annual Dacula Parade route. Carrying plastic bags, they cheered when parade entries tossed them gumballs and lollipops.
The children were part of a crowd of more than 10,000 people who watched the parade proceed from Hebron Baptist Church, down Dacula Road and finish at Dacula High School.
"This was the largest in all 19 years," said founder and coordinator Marvin Atherton about the 160 entries and more than 2,000 parade participants
First-time parade attendee Katie Christie ran the 5K road race before the event but wanted to bring her 2-year-old daughter to see the floats and possibly catch some candy. She said she was looking forward to seeing her daughter's excitement as the floats drove by.
The enthusiastic toddler clapped along with the Dacula Falcon Marching Band and squealed after hearing oogle horns from antique cars. Yet, it was her mother who took to her feet as the Hamilton Mill Christian Church marched in honor of the men and women of Georgia who died in the wars after Sept. 11. The church carried lists, which according to Atherton included a total of 203 named soldiers.
Although Christie initially came to the parade so that her daughter could experience the event, she later reconsidered.
"I didn't realize they'd have so many veterans. It's fun to watch the parade, but this day is really about the veterans," she said.
Helping residents realize and remember the real meaning of Memorial Day is something Atherton feels he was called to do. He said he wished more people stopped to think about the reason why they are able to attend public school, own property and enjoy other freedoms. The parade serves as a medium to allow people to reflect on why they are able to maintain freedom in the United States.
This year's theme "Their Sacrifice, Our Gratitude" was a tribute to Korean War Veterans. It was the first time in the history of the Dacula Memorial Parade that soldiers in the Korean War were honored. "It is often called The Forgotten War," Atherton said. "I didn't want to forget them."
U.S. Navy and Korean War Veteran Bill Tiller served as grand marshal for the parade. In 1968, he was assigned as a radar man on the Aircraft Carrier USS Sicily. He now lives in Grayson with his wife of 60 years, Alene. For his service to this country, Tiller was greeted with applause and cheers as he rode past Fire Station 16.