Twelve years. That's how long Lonnie Cochran has served in the honor guard of Dalton American Legion Post 112.

And in each of those 12 years he and fellow honor guard members have provided military honors at the funerals of 90 to 110 fellow veterans.

"It has been my honor and my privilege to serve in the honor guard," he said Saturday. "I know that it helps the family, gives them some comfort in a difficult time when we perform that ceremony."

Cochran was honored Saturday at the American Legion Post on Legion Drive as the Veteran of the Year.

"I really don't think I deserve this," said Cochran, who served in the U.S Navy from 1958 to 1961. "But I'm very grateful."

American Legion member John Wilson has organized that honor for more than a decade.

"This award isn't about what rank you had or what service you served in or what you did in the service," he said. "It's about what you are doing today for your fellow veterans and their families."

The ceremony followed the Dalton Veterans Day Parade, which was sponsored by the American Legion.

Crowds lined the streets as the parade made its way along Waugh Street to Hamilton Street, then to Morris Street to Thornton Avenue and back to Waugh.

Dalton resident Lisa Smalley said she came out to honor the nation's veterans.

"I admire veterans. I appreciate what they have done for our country, for the rest of us," said Smalley, who added that she had veterans in her family.

Luis Escobar had brought his young sons with him.

"I think they are just enjoying the parade," he said. "But I hope that in the future they appreciate what this day means and who it honors."

The Dalton High School Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps led the parade, which included marching bands from Dalton High, Coahulla Creek High, Northwest Whitfield High and Southeast Whitfield High schools.

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Women Across the Nation and a number of individual veterans took part in the parade.

Shriners from temples across north Georgia and from Chattanooga took part. They drove dozens of vehicles, from classic cars to motorcycles and go-karts to customized novelty vehicles.

The grand marshal was Patty Parks, national president of Military Women Across the Nation. A resident of Ooltewah, Tennessee, Parks is a retired commander with the U.S. Navy, having served 25 years.

Parks spoke afterwards at the American Legion Post, asking veterans to think about who tomorrow's veterans will be.

She noted that, with the American military being considerably smaller than it was for much of the 20th century, there are fewer opportunities for young people to serve. She also noted that almost three quarters of American youth are unqualified for military service because they lack a high school diploma, have a criminal record, are obese or have some other health problem or cannot score high enough on military aptitude tests.

She encouraged veterans to encourage young people in their education and to teach them about the importance of freedom so they will be able to serve in the military and might want to serve.

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