A large crowd of people from throughout the area braved Saturday’s heat to visit the Georgia National Cemetery near Canton as the cemetery held its annual Memorial Day ceremony.

According to cemetery officials, the Memorial Day ceremony was first held at Georgia National Cemetery when it opened in 2006, and has been held with a similar format ever since.

The events began at 10 a.m. in the assembly area of the cemetery and included comments from retired Marine Corps Major General James E. Livingston, who received the Medal of Honor for his service.

“I want to thank all of you for coming here and remembering Memorial Day,” Livingston said. “I believe Memorial Day is the most solemn of all of our national holidays.”

Livingston described Memorial Day as a reminder of why everyone living in the United States today is free, while also briefly touching on the history of the holiday, how it began immediately after the Civil War and was renamed Memorial Day following the First World War. At the same time, he stated that there are those living in the U.S. today who need to be educated more about what Memorial Day truly means and about American history, in order to better understand and appreciate the things they enjoy every day.

“We are here to pay our deepest respects to those who have fallen,” Livingston said. “We should never forget them.

“We have freed more people from oppression in the last century than any other country in the history of the world. That gift, however, has come with a very high price.”

Livingston said service in the armed forces is possibly the greatest calling any American can achieve, while saying that, with approximately 2.5 million Americans serving today, there is so much owed to these men and women who make up less than 1% of the country’s population.

While the temperature continued to climb during the ceremony, Livingston encouraged those in attendance to take a moment and think about those currently serving, including the young men and women doing their duties in the intense heat of Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition to thanking those in attendance, Livingston also took the time to thank the veterans in the crowd and their families, the families of those veterans who have passed, the Patriot Guard Riders for their participation in the ceremony and the Cherokee Fire and Rescue Service for bringing one of its ladder trucks and displaying a large American flag from the top of the ladder, among many others involved.

Other parts of the ceremony included music from the Cherokee Chorale, the presentation of colors by members of the Georgia Army National Guard, who also fired off a three-volley salute before Taps was played by a member of the group Bugles Across America, a special wreath presentation and a flyover from the Tiger Flight Foundation, which consisted of three planes of the same model that was used by the U.S. Army Air Force in the 1930s as a training plane. On the first pass over the cemetery, the planes flew in a “V” shape, while one of the planes pulled out of the formation on the second pass, executing a “missing man” formation.

Following the ceremony, many of the guests left the assembly area and visited some of the graves throughout the cemetery, while others took the opportunity to take a look at a half-scale model of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

As the day wound down and the cemetery began to empty, the air remained solemn, as those who had attended took with them the remembrance that Memorial Day is much more than a day off from work or to grill out, but is instead an opportunity to remember whose who gave all to keep America the land of the free.

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