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Soldiers march to honor WWIIs 101st Airborne
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Members of the Georgia Army National Guard 108th Cavalry walk Thursday along the exit ramp from Interstate 985 to Jesse Jewell Parkway. The soldiers are marching from Toccoa to Atlanta to commemorate the march made by the 101st Airborne Division in 1942. - photo by Tom Reed

A group of soldiers, armed and marching in uniform down the streets of Gainesville, likely raised a few eyebrows Thursday.

Members of the The Georgia Army National Guard 108th Cavalry embarked Wednesday on a journey to walk from Toccoa to Atlanta to commemorate a record-breaking march made by Georgia soldiers during World War II.

The group of about 10 men started the march in Toccoa early Wednesday morning and stopped in Lula to sleep for the night.

By about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the group’s healthy pace had them at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

“We’re hurting pretty good right now,” said Capt. Russell McKelvey.

Sandwiched between a Humvee, police cars and a fire truck, the procession marched down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard toward Atlanta Highway.

Onlookers peered out of doors and windows and some offered up words of support, something the soldiers said was motivation to keep going.

“It helps keep your endurance up when you’re tired,” said Spc. Jason Cormier.

Cormier said one special supporter of the march is a man who watched the original group of paratroopers march in Atlanta in the ’40s and has come out for the past two years to see the re-enactment.

“He is a big motivation,” Cormier said. “He makes it all worth it.”

In 1942, members of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division marched 118 miles from Toccoa to Atlanta before heading to Columbus to begin parachute training.

A year after Pearl Harbor was bombed, they broke the record for an endurance march, which at the time was held by the Japanese.

The group’s service in World War II was immortalized in Stephen Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers,” which was made into a HBO miniseries of the same name in 2001.

Friday, the group will continue the march and finish at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. They will march in the Atlanta Veterans Day parade Saturday.

The men have walked approximately 35 miles per day, said 1st Lt. David Ubriaco. The entire march is 101 miles, to recognize the men of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.

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