Green Street exploded red, white and blue as American veterans marched through downtown Gainesville Monday amidst the fanfare of a high school marching band and cheering crowds.
The annual Memorial Day Parade wound through the historic district and concluded with a barbecue at the courthouse square. Hundreds of children, adults and veterans participated in the parade and hundreds more lined the street.
Some rode in fire engines and police vehicles while waving to spectators lounging in lawn chairs. Young beauty queens wearing tiaras threw candy to children from their convertible thrones as local politicians seeking office this fall seized the opportunity to campaign while honoring fallen warriors.
It was in their honor that World War II veterans, as well as veterans of the Iraq, Vietnam and Korean wars, paraded through town.
Bill Carr, a volunteer chaplain with the Gainesville Fire Department, was stationed in Kuwait as a U.S. Army chaplain from 2003 until he retired in 2006.
Carr said he traveled frequently to Iraq and Afghanistan, and was proud to march alongside firefighters in the Gainesville Memorial Day Parade for the second time.
"I think the worst thing is for veterans to feel forgotten, and this is a way to remind them they are not forgotten. They are appreciated," Carr said.
He said it felt good to wear his desert camouflage uniform again.
"I’m glad it still fits," he said.
"The parade’s really nice. I noticed some of the veterans in the crowd wearing their baseball caps, and we exchanged salutes and that was very touching for me," Carr said. "(This event) really means a lot to the veterans. You can see it in their faces."
Wendy McNair said for her five kids, the Memorial Day parade is an annual event.
"My husband was in Iraq and we come every year to support the troops," she said. "The kids like the candy and seeing the soldiers. We teach them about Memorial Day and try to instill in them how important it is to support our military in this country and what an honor it is to live here."
Timothy Hollibush, 20, said he attends the Memorial Day celebration each year to cheer on his grandfather, Charlie Truelove, who served in the Army during the Korean War and marched in the parade.
"I love it every time I see him out here every year," Hollibush said. "We’re proud of him. We’re proud of all these people who went over there and served. We appreciate them giving their lives and their time."
While the parade was wrapping up downtown, the Hall County Sheriff’s Honor Guard held a Memorial Day ceremony at Memorial Park Cemetery.
The honor guard carried out a 24-hour Memorial Day vigil at the park’s war memorial and held an 11 a.m. ceremony to honor veterans and those who died serving the United States. Honor guards changed about every 45 minutes Monday from midnight to midnight.
Judge Jason Deal was the featured speaker at the second annual event, which honored recently wounded Gillsville soldier Pfc. Nathon Bagwell.
Last year, the service honored Hall County native Channing Moss, who was wounded in Afghanistan.
Bagwell is now recovering from a gunshot wound he received on April 27 in Sadr City, Iraq, when enemy forces attacked his platoon. Bagwell was moved from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta last Wednesday.
Family members said he is slowly recovering and now awaits a 10-hour surgery to repair his bladder and his left kidney.
Bagwell couldn’t attend, but his grandfather and siblings, Jeremy and Holly Bagwell, accepted the Georgia Purple Heart for him on Monday.
Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic also awarded Nathon Bagwell the Hall County Sheriff’s Office Service Award, which honors the soldier’s service and sacrifices he made in Iraq.
"I respect our veterans so much," Cronic said. "To be a small part of thanking them is so special to me."
Cronic told the crowd of about 200 people that he is grateful for the courage of America’s military men and women, who make it possible for each American to live peacefully with their families and carry out their dreams.
"Everything we have and everything we will have was secured by the blood of others," he said.