Standing in front of the Whitfield County Veterans Memorial with American flags flying behind him, Jonathan Barlow reminded those attending the Memorial Day Community Celebration on Monday why Memorial Day is important.

"The sun is out, the sky is blue, the grass is green and the birds are singing in the trees," Barlow, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dalton, said. "One thing we are not doing this morning is worrying about our freedom. The reason is because of men and women who sacrificed that we might be here today."

The seventh annual Memorial Day Community Celebration was held outside the Whitfield County Courthouse. The program included music by the Dalton-Whitfield Community Band, the posting of the colors by the Dalton police and fire departments' honor guards, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Dalton High School JROTC cadets and the laying of wreaths for prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Dixcee Merritt, the event's chair, was the guest speaker.

"It's hot and uncomfortable to a lot of people right now, but you chose to be here anyway," she said. "You chose because you are free to do so and that's what's in your heart."

Merritt said she always has felt an association with veterans, both living and dead. Her father, Arnold Rutherford, now deceased, fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

"Today we're celebrating their choice and sacrifice," she said. "There are lots of wars where we have lost veterans and today is one for remembering them."

"My dad went to Korea and came back a very different person," she said. "I think of him today and the sacrifices he made. I'm coming to you today hopefully with a sense of joy that we are honoring, remembering and memorializing those who are not with us today."

Merritt asked members of the audience to stand if they had lost a family member who served in the military.

"I see 80 to 90% of the crowd standing," she said. "I ask that on Memorial Day we are able to remember those who are no longer with us, and on Veterans Day we remember those living."

Lee Oliver, commander of American Legion Post 112, said Memorial Day is personal for those who have lost a loved one who died while serving.

"For those who did not experience that knock on the door or never knew the pain of a loved one missing in action, they can only think they know and empathize," he said.

Oliver said Memorial Day "allows us to honor and respect the losses of others who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their life."

"It prompts us to bow our heads in gratitude and humbly serve others with kindness," he said.

Oliver said he hopes people will remember a soldier or a sailor who never knew them, but died for their freedom.

"Memorial Day isn't just about honoring veterans, it's honoring these who lost their lives," he said. "Veterans had the good fortune of coming home. For us it's a reminder we still have a responsibility to serve. It's a continuation of service of those who honor our country and who fell defending it."

Jean Jones was presented an American flag in honor of her husband, Sherwood. Sherwood Jones was a local doctor who served in the Air Force. He died in January.

"The (Memorial Day Community Celebration) service was wonderful and very emotional," Jean Jones said.

She said she plans to fly the flag outside her home and eventually pass it on to one of her grandchildren.

Monday's celebration continued on the Dalton Green with family activities, hot dogs, chips and snacks.

Sue Dixon of Varnell said she thought the service was "awesome."

"I came to show my respect and honor for the guys who died for us," she said. "Many left their families so we can enjoy days like this. I really appreciate what they did for me."

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