Luke Holmes may just be 7, but he understands the sacrifices servicemen and women make for his country.
"I wanted to tell the veterans that we love them," he said Monday afternoon as he held a hand-drawn banner stating the same. "They protect our country, and I wanted to tell them thank you."
Holmes was among hundreds lining the downtown streets, waving flags and holding up signs of gratitude, as veterans of all ages and from each branch of the military shared the spotlight during Dawsonville's annual Veterans Day celebration.
In its ninth year, the ceremonies began with a formal tribute to veterans at Dawson County Middle School. That was followed by a parade through downtown Dawsonville, one of just two places in Georgia designated as a 2013 Veterans Day Regional Site by the Veterans Day National Committee. The other is Atlanta.
Eulene Disharoon said she was proud to be a part of the celebration.
"It's wonderful to do something for the people who served now and before us," she said. "Kids need to learn about the veterans.
"My father-in-law was in World War II and other members of my family served. With the way it is now, we all need to be up here thanking these people."
Sponsored by the local veterans affairs group, the annual ceremony pays tribute to veterans who continue their mantra of service in their communities.
Serving as emcee, Veterans Affairs of Dawson County President Don Brown presented the 2013 Veteran of the Year award to Bert Lawson of Dawsonville.
"He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, having served three tours as an F-4 Phantom pilot with 167 combat missions and over 7,000 hours, including air-to-air combat with a MIG-21," Brown said.
"He left the Air Force after 14 years and entered the Air National Guard, where he served until retiring as a colonel. He holds the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, four Air Medals and the Vietnam Service Medal among others."
Lawson, who was shot down in Vietnam and wounded twice, currently serves as a board member and treasurer of the Georgia Mountain Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, an advocate for a strong national defense that represents the interests of military officers and their families at every stage of their careers.
"Vietnam was a tough part of American history. Whether we agreed or not, we did what we were ordered to do," he said. "But the real heroes are the ones that didn't make it home.
"You feel guilty that you're being recognized and the people that need to be recognized are the ones who you don't know their names."
DCN staff writer David Renner contributed to this story.