Thousands came out for the annual Memorial Day Parade through Dacula on Monday. (Photo: Robin Reuter)
DACULA — Standing in the back of a pickup truck and bellowing a patriotic and emotional message across the speakers around the heart of Dacula, Marvin Atherton honored those who he said offered an unselfish sacrifice of their lives.
The organizer spoke as the 21st annual Memorial Day parade took place under warm and sunny skies on Monday morning as thousands of people lined the streets as Atherton stood in front of Gwinnett Fire Station No. 16 across from Dacula High and offered a history and details of the parade and military conflicts.
“Memorial Day is not about you and me, but honoring those who died for you and me,” Atherton said.
The grand marshal of one of the largest annual Memorial Day parades across Georgia and the country this year was World War II veteran Roy Wallis, who fought in the Phillippines and will celebrate his 90th birthday on July 15. Atherton also highlighted the service of the Tuskegee Airmen and Korean war horse veteran, Sgt. Reckless.
The parade also recognized the service of 216 fallen heroes from Georgia who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wallis, a Buford native, was drafted into the Army and began serving in 1944 at 20-years-old. He was wounded by a sniper’s bullet in 1945, and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
“The courage possessed by the men and women we are honoring today cannot be taught,” Atherton said. “Remember that this day of leisure was provided by the service men and women.”
Taylor Bahin, a 2014 graduate of Archer High, sang the national anthem, and has attended or participated in the parade since she was in the seventh grade. Each of Bahin’s grandfathers served in the Army or the Navy.
“It means to be a part of the bigger picture and represent freedom,” she said of participating in the event. “If I can be a part of something that helps to show what our country and our flag represents, I want to be a part of that.”
Sgt. Reckless served in the Korean War and retired in 1960 at Camp Pendleton. She was buried in 1968 with full military honors. The banner to honor her at the parade read, “She wasn’t just a horse, she was a Marine.”
Atherton added, “She was an American icon in her time. We have a tribute to her today.”
Atherton also highlighted the service of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of mostly African-American pilots who served in World War II.
Claud Bradberry, who organized the Model A cars contribution to the parade annually, was recognized by Atherton. The Model A cars in Saturday’s parade each had blue ribbons on their in honor of Bradberry, who died in March. He was 82.
Each year when Atherton asked Bradberry if the cars would return, and Atherton recalled Bradberry saying, “We’ll have a good bunch of them for you, just let me know what number we are.”
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. This year, there was 157 entires, 130 vehicles and 2,071 people in the parade.
Among the entries in the parade were military vehicles, tractors, marching bands, Scouts, churches, custom designed floats, horses, antique cars, trucks and local businesses. Local, county and state officials and candidates for office also attended the event, which included a “buzz over” by the Gwinnett County Police helicopter, as Atherton also recognized the 3 p.m. national moment of remembrance.
The colors were also presented by the Georgia Gwinnett College Army ROTC and the Georgia National Guard color guard.
“If you see a veteran,” Atherton said. “Take a minute and shake their hand, it will do their heart good. And believe it or not, yours too.”