Thousands of American flags flew in the wind Saturday morning throughout the sprawling 775 acres of Georgia National Cemetery near Knox Bridge in Canton, where Memorial Day is observed each year.
Cemetery Director Marge Helgerson was one of the first to speak at the ceremony Saturday and told those in attendance that Memorial Day should not be taken lightly.
“Memorial Day is an especially important day for our nation,” Helgerson said. “This is a day for both mourning and meaning, for remembering and for respect.”
Helgerson said the fallen service members of the American military must be honored.
“Those we honor today defined and made possible both our history and our future,” she said. “They did not fail us, so we must not fail them.”
Later, the governor agreed Memorial Day demands respect and thanked attendees who came to pay that respect.
“One of the things that liberty buys is the ability to be irreverent,” Deal said. “And for those who see no reason to take time out of a holiday weekend to simply pause and say, ‘Thank you,’ they don’t know it, but those who have served and have paid the price of their irreverence. But for those of you who have seen fit to come and pay homage to those who have served, I say, ‘Thank you.’”
Deal said the price paid by fallen veterans is hefty.
“The common slogan is that ‘Freedom is never free,’” he said. “Sometimes, that becomes just a cliche, but for those who want to ask the question, ‘What does freedom really cost?’ I want to suggest that you go and look at a headstone. A headstone is the ticket price of freedom. …We should never, ever forget that.”
Deal was flown by helicopter to the Georgia National Cemetery on Saturday with the task of introducing the ceremony’s keynote speaker, the head of the Georgia National Guard, Maj. General James Butterworth. Deal said Butterworth is a Georgia native with 12 years of service in the military under his belt.
Butterworth began his speech by thanking members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a national motorcycle club that sends its members to the funerals of armed services members and other public servants. About 30 members of the group stood dressed in leather chaps and patch-covered jackets during the ceremony Saturday. Each of them held an American flag and stood in a line with them for the entire service.
Butterworth also recognized those who died in service.
“On Memorial Day 2013, we have much to remember and many to honor,” he said. “Let us never forget. Let us never take that gift of freedom for granted. Let us never forget that men and women have struggled, are struggling and will continue to struggle for our ability to walk freely and pursue happiness”
The program also drew U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Marietta), state Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), state Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, who is running for Congress in Georgia’s 11th District, and Cherokee Board of Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens.