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BOONE: Honoring, walking for our fallen heroes

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Family, friends and volunteers represent the 203 soldiers from Georgia killed overseas since 9/11 during the annual Dacula Memorial Day parade in downtown Dacula on Monday.

It's really hard to put into words how my boyfriend Jeff and I felt on Monday volunteering at the annual Dacula Memorial Day parade. We were two of 203 volunteers who carried signs of the names of Georgia soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

As we walked into the worship center at Hebron Baptist Church, there was a line to get a sign to carry. It was on a first-come, first-served basis unless you were a family member of a loved one who had died and, rightfully so, they got to pick their fallen soldiers' sign.

The emotions hit me right away as I saw the widow of Lance Cpl. Joseph "Ryan" Giese standing with his sign, gripping it tightly, tears in her eyes and someone holding her hand. Giese, who was from Winder, was killed in January 2011 by an IED that was triggered while his unit was out on foot patrol in Afghanistan. Brittany and Ryan weren't even married for a year before he died, so I can't even imagine how she's been feeling since that January day up until Monday before the parade. I wanted to go over and hug her and say thank you for her husband's service, but I just felt the need to leave her be.

I did feel like it was meant to be with the sign that was given to me to carry. It was a 25-year-old named Christopher K. Boone of Valdosta, who was killed in action on Feb. 17, 2007. While we share the same last name, there's no relation between us, but I truly felt like I was supposed to represent and honor him in the parade. Jeff's sign was for Staff Sgt. Carl R. Fuller of Covington, who was killed on July 24, 2005.

As we lined up and got ready for the parade, all the volunteers and family members were very serene but I felt we were glad to be a part of such a special morning. We were five volunteers wide and 41 rows long just to give you an idea of how large the setup was. The 203 of us were the start of the parade and as we turned the corner onto the road, I could not believe my eyes and ears. For the entire time we walked, which was about two miles, people were standing and clapping once they realized what they were seeing.

I immediately started tearing up when I saw World War II veterans along the street crying and saluting. And I was so overwhelmed at the children saluting or placing their hands on their hearts as we walked by and was so proud to see parents making their teenagers stand up and take their hats off to show some respect for what Memorial Day really means. It was so surreal and wonderful to see.

I felt so honored and proud to be a part of this event. And I hope that Jeff and I made Christopher and Carl's friends and family proud, wherever they are. I know what we did can't bring them back, but I truly felt it helped keep their memory alive.

Thank you to our fallen soldiers and to all the war veterans who have fought and died for our freedom. Monday was for all of you.

Tori Boone is a copy editor for the Daily Post. Email her at tori.boone@gwinnettdailypost.com.