Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan 231 people, including family, friends and volunteers hold signs representing the fallen heroes of Georgia who have died while serving the United States. Thousands attended to honor those and more during the 20th annual Dacula Memorial Day parade in downtown Dacula Monday.
DACULA -- When Merrill Burroughs was invited to be a part of the annual Memorial Day parade in Dacula, he didn't give it a second thought. Of course, he would be there.
The 92-year-old, who served as a technical sergeant in the Army in World War II, was among a large group of veterans honored on Monday at the 20th annual event. More than 10,000 people attended the parade, and many waved American flags of all sizes, wore patriotic clothes and celebrated freedom on a picturesque morning.
"It means a tremendous amount to me, the effort that these people went to, to put this parade on," said Burroughs, a Hall County resident who lived in Snellville for 40 years. "If these people could go to all of that trouble and effort to put it on, the least the veterans could do was show up, because that's what they were doing it for."
One of Burroughs' assignments was to guard the Enola Gay before it dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. He was also the communications chief on Iwo Jima, arrived there before the Marines, and was on the island when they raised the American flag, Burroughs said.
The parade's founder and organizer, Marvin Atherton, offered a history of the parade and how it's grown since 1994, and asked the crowd several times, "Why are you here?"
"Are you a proud American and want to honor and remember those who sacrificed for us to be free, and to have the ability to have parades like this," Atherton said to the crowd. "To go to school, to go to church and all the good things that we enjoy. So why are you here today?"
The parade has grown from having 25 entries and five police officers in its first year, to more than 150 entries and a police presence on nearly every block as well as in the parade.
"I did not waste my time, and what a great feeling that was," Atherton said he recalled after the first parade. "Look around here, 20 years later, it is heart-warming to see thousands of people gathered here today on the streets of Dacula on Memorial Day."
One of those was Morgan Stokes, a rising senior at Dacula High School, who sang the national anthem. Stokes has been involved in the parade since she was in the fifth grade, and said her grandfather, a veteran, recently passed away.
"It's awesome that our community comes out here every year. I'm glad people are here recognizing veterans," she said. "It just shows that Dacula is such a good family. Everybody comes out, and more people come every year, and it's going to continue to grow."
Among the entries in the parade were active and restored military vehicles, tractors, marching bands, Scouts, churches, custom designed floats, horses, antique cars and trucks. Local, county and state officials also attended the event, which featured a riderless horse as the grand marshal, which was presented by the Central Georgia Mounted Color Guard.
During his speech, Atherton called on parents and grandparents to see that today's youth understand the significance of Memorial Day, and the cost of freedom. And to veterans, Atherton said he paid deep reverence and appreciation for their service.
"We know that in years to come more brave souls will sacrifice their lives for America," he said. "My heart is with you. I will never forget what you have done for me and this country."