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Veterans, active duty honored for service
Speaker salutes the 'real stars'
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American flags fill the Cumming Veterans Memorial during Thursday's Veterans Day ceremony. - photo by Jennifer Sami


Some have been retired for decades, while others are still serving.

They are veterans and active U.S. military personnel, and Thursday they were honored in Cumming and across the nation for Veterans Day.

“The nation owes a great debt to its veterans, whose service to our nation stands every year, every day and every hour through this country’s existence,” said Kyle Howlin, a retired Marine who gave the keynote address during the ceremony.

Howlin, who is now an American Airlines pilot, called veterans the “true heroes of this great nation.”

“In a celebrity-obsessed culture with multimillion dollar athletes ... it is important for us all to remember who the real stars of America are,” he said.

Howlin shared stories of some individual veterans from Cumming. He told of how they stood out among the ranks, the sacrifices they made, and of their brave actions on and off the battlefield.

The stories brought tears to Tricia Syler, whose father-in-law served during the Vietnam War.

“It just really touched me,” she said. “You’ve got people who are up there who have lived long lives and who have done so many wonderful things. It’s just so neat to me to hear individual stories like that.”

Syler attended the event with her three sons, twins Quinton and Zachary, 14, and 11-year-old Joshua.

The Sylers were part of the Forsyth County Christian Home Educators, which helps organize the annual event.

Children with the group performed for veterans and their supporters in attendance. Several stayed afterward to personally thank the veterans for their service.

“I think we need to remind our children, like [Howlin] said, who the stars really are in this country — the people who have given us the rights and freedoms that we have,” Syler said.  “I think as parents we have a responsibility to teach that to our children.”

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt welcomed the crowd and thanked current military personnel, as well as those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

While the city’s Veterans Day ceremony is a popular event, Gravitt said it’s “inadequate for a tribute for our veterans.”

“We owe our veterans a debt that can never be repaid,” he said. “In Afghanistan, there are tens of thousands of military veterans and personnel that are risking their lives every day for the freedoms that we’re sharing here.

"Every single one of them is remembered by somebody that they’ve left at home.”

Before a bagpipe performance of “Amazing Grace,” a 21-gun salute and taps, Howlin reminded the crowd of the importance of teaching children about the soldiers who died in battles long ago.

He also asked to push legislators to continue to support veterans and to keep veterans' memories alive.

“We hope and pray the next generation will never forget the sacrifices our veterans have made,” he said. “[They] are not elderly men and women that march in parades, but the greatest Americans to ever grace our communities.

“Don’t underestimate, ladies and gentleman, the power of simply reaching out your hand and saying ‘thank you’ to each and every veteran you encounter.”

The American Legion Post 307, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, the Forsyth County Honor Guard, Forsyth Central High School's Flash of Crimson band and North Forsyth High's Marine Corps JROTC also took part in the ceremony.