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‘Freedom is not for free’: City of Cumming honors veterans during annual ceremony
Veterans Day 2021
Photo courtesy Crystal Ledford, City of Cumming.

While the weather was chilly at the Cumming Fairgrounds, the City of Cumming’s Veterans Day ceremony was warm with remembrance, respect and honor.

Held on Thursday, Nov. 11, the event honored those that have served and died in the “name of freedom.”

“Whether we have volunteered or were inducted to serve as a part of the selective service draft, we veterans all know that freedom is not for free,” said Michael McMahon, master of ceremonies and member of the Forsyth County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9143.

“Freedom is won and defended on the battlefield and paid for by the lives and the blood of our young men and women who have earned the title of Veteran,” he said.

Three momentous anniversaries were recognized this year: the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the 30th anniversary of the first Persian Gulf War and the 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001.

Each anniversary was acknowledged as well as all the people that served.

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Members of the Forsyth County Cadet Squadron 160 present the five combat branches' colors as veterans of those branches stand to be recognized.
Veterans Day 2021
Keynote speaker John Gwizdak addresses the audience. Gwizdak served in the Army for 20 years before retiring in 1978 at the rank of Captain.

The event’s keynote speaker was John F. Gwizdak, who served as the commander in chief of the VFW of the United States from 2000-01 as the second and last Georgian in the role.

Gwizdak enlisted in the Army in 1958 and retired in 1978 at the rank of captain. He was inducted into the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School’s Hall of Fame for his service and leadership accomplishments.

Gwizdak said he was glad to see “all of the young folks” in the audience because it was important to educate the youth about veterans, which he called people that are “special, unique and different.”

“[About] 300 million people in this United States and less than 1% is in harm’s way today,” Gwizdak said. “But that 1% takes 100% of the bullets.”

“They said you can’t be flat-footed, but they can return you home to your mother without any legs,” he said. “They ask you to be mentally capable of doing everything, but as war ravages away, your mind and your body [follow]. Now all of a sudden that special unique and different person who was written for America, now we wrap them up in a diaper. We send them to somewhere to a VA hospital, hoping that America will find a few dollars to care for them.”

He expressed the importance of remembering, respecting and honoring veterans by asking the audience to celebrate Veterans Day and Memorial Day every single day.

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Veterans Day 2021
Photo courtesy Crystal Ledford, City of Cumming.
Veterans Day 2021
Students from Artios Academy perform hits from the 50s to pay homage to WWII veterans. Some of the songs they sang were "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."
Veterans Day 2021
Photo courtesy Crystal Ledford, City of Cumming.

Students from the Artios Academies of Sugar Hill, West Forsyth High School and Christian Fine Arts of Forsyth performed songs that celebrated and paid tribute to World War II veterans and others with musical scores like “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “O’ America.”

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office also held a rifle salute for the late US secretary of state Colin Powell and Senator (1997–2003), Georgia Secretary of State (1982–1996) Max Cleland, late veterans who served in both the military and political roles. The country lost both men recently.

After a benediction, McMahon ended the program with the sentiment and words, "God bless the USA."