At least 300 war veterans, marching band members and color guards paraded through downtown Dawsonville Sunday afternoon in honor of the city’s 3rd Annual Veterans Day Celebration.
The city was one of 27 in the country recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Veterans Day regional site.
Honorary Grand marshals Kyle Tate and John Keeney led the parade that began at Dawsonville City Hall, circled around the downtown area and culminated at an awards ceremony in front of city hall. The Georgia Army National Guard Color Guard followed behind, along with the Dawsonville High School marching band, the master of ceremony, Capt. Larry Freeland, and ROTC drill team units from North Forsyth County and Lumpkin County high schools.
Numerous veteran groups participated in the parade, including veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the Iraq War. Active military and their families also took part in the procession.
After the parade, a ceremony was held to honor veterans that featured a presentation of the "Unwavering Line." Freeland announced each war in American history, beginning with the Revolutionary War and ending with THE current war in Iraq, as current and former military members donned uniforms representative of each of the wars.
Christine Hill from the Department of Veterans Affairs and retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Jim Chapin both gave keynote addresses to a crowd of about 600 people.
The ceremony was complete with a helicopter flying overhead, a 21-gun salute and music provided by bagpiper Dan Titus and the Dawson County High School band.
Linda Williams, president of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, presented veteran of the year awards to Bill Sexton and Wayne Watkins. Watkins was instrumental in designating a Dawsonville city park as the Veterans Memorial Park.
"They have been there," said Kim Cornelison, vice president of veterans affairs of Dawson County. "They have lived in conditions and experienced things that you or I wouldn’t even care to fathom. And then they come back and are so selfless and so giving and continue to do things for our community. It’s beyond touching."
Cornelison said that Veterans Day celebrations are important to honor vets for their service, and while she thinks Vietnam War veterans received a negative homecoming after the war, they are finally receiving a proper thank you for their service.
"It’s great that we’re being recognized," said Karl Hamalainen, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971. Hamalainen said that he felt great to be surrounded by veterans during the celebration. He said he recently located a friend and fellow Vietnam vet living in Sarasota, Fla. The friend came to Dawsonville to participate in Sunday’s Veterans Day festivities.
"We weren’t exactly treated well when we came back, but a lot of this has changed," Hamalainen said. "It’s nice to see people applaud and say thank you."