by Curt Yeomans
Memorial Day was bittersweet for several elected officials in Gwinnett County.
County commissioners, U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall and the mayors of Lawrenceville and Lilburn gathered on Monday at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center to honor the military during the county's annual Memorial Day ceremony.
They gathered to say "Thank You" to a special group of men and women who served in the armed forces, but they couldn't escape the reality that they could never say those words to those people in person. They had gathered to honor the fallen, the people who died while fighting in various wars the United States participated in during its 239-year history.
"On Memorial Day, I feel a little unworthy," Woodall said. "I think about that and every year, we come back to this place and we gather and we hear from some of our heroes, who don't make us feel small, but help to lift us back up again.
"Being unworthy is a choice," he added. "Every year we get together, we get to choose whether or not we go out over the next 12 months and make ourselves worthy of that sacrifice."
Hundreds of people attended county's annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Fallen Heroes Memorial. Many of them were families of soldiers who died in combat, or members of groups dedicated to patriotism and the honoring of deceased soldiers.
The ceremony was one several Memorial Day events which took place around Gwinnett County on Monday. Thousands of people attended the 22nd Annual Dacula Memorial Day parade in the morning. The parade was preceded by a 5K race. The American Red Cross held a blood drive at the Mall of Georgia, Norcross held its annual celebration and the American Legion Barrett-Davis-Watson Post 233 in Loganville held a motorcycle ride to an event in Madison.
Officials who spoke at the service in Lawrenceville thanked attendees for choosing to attend the ceremony, while pointing out they could have chosen to spend holiday in other ways which may not have been as solemn.
"On a day when you could participate in a parade at this moment, or be with family, or gathering with friends, or perhaps at a picnic, I especially thank you for attendance at this very special service," Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson said.
The people who attended the ceremony were reminded that the day has roots in the Civil War, or the War Between the States as it is referred to on the memorial.
"Originally, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day," keynote speaker Sgt. Maj. Patrick Amos said. "Decoration Day was founded as a way to commemorate all of the lives that were lost during the American Civil War.
"This holiday recognized the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in battle (but) the name Decoration Day was changed to Memorial Day when the holiday was expanded to celebrate and recognize all Americans who died in battle, not just the Civil War," he added. "They changed it for all of us."
The memorial, which lists Gwinnettians who died in wars going as far back as the war for Texas independence in 1836, lists more residents who died in the Civil War than any other war since the county was created in 1818. The list of residents who died during the Civil War takes up two granite stones at the memorial.
While the stones feature the names of service members from Gwinnett County who have died in wars as recent as the War on Terror, county commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said there is some solace for residents.
"In thinking back about this past year, there's one really good thing: We've not added any new names to these granite stones behind me," Nash said.
There was one former Gwinnett resident whose passing was marked during the ceremony however. Nash presented a proclamation honoring Col. Frank E. Naughton to officials from the his old parachute regiment.
Naughton trained at Fort Benning before shipping off to Europe to participate in the D-Day landings during World War II. He later served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and eventually settled down in Norcross. He became one of Gwinnett's first Magistrate Court judges in the 1980's.
"He spent his live serving his country and his county, and it's truly an honor to recognize his dedication to our community by presenting a proclamation in his honor," Nash said.
Jordan said all former service members who called Gwinnett home at one point or another will not be completely gone though, as long as people continue to remember them at ceremonies like the one held on Memorial Day.
"These names that are etched on your stone represent your heart," Johnson said. "They were your friends, they were your family and they were your co-workers. Let us all vow, as citizens of this great community (and) of the United States of America, that we will continue the heart of patriotism in this great country, that we will never forget the heartbeat of those stories of men and women that are etched on these stones."