The Meridian Star
Terri Ferguson Smith
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a 21-gun salute followed by the distant playing of "Taps" marked Veterans Day in downtown Meridian on Monday.
Veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan received their thanks from the community gathered at the Doughboy monument near City Hall.
Gerald Alexander of Lauderdale County served overseas during the European occupation just following the end of World War II. Asked what he was thinking about on Veterans Day, he said, with his voice choked with emotion, "I'm thinking of a lot of them who didn't come home. There's a lot of them," Alexander said. "I think it's very fitting that people come out and show their respect, not because I'm a veteran but because so many gave more than I did."
Wayne Rawson, who served during the Vietnam War era, but said he did not serve in combat, said it's important to let veterans know that they are appreciated.
"I'm just proud of the good turnout we've had. Being a veteran, it's very important," Rawson said. "Every young person should serve their country and I think it's very important to realize the sacrifices that veterans made."
Rawson said he believes that Americans are more aware today of the sacrifices that veterans are making, but he would like to see some improvements on the federal level.
"Honestly I just wish we had more support from our government — support for the military," Rawson said. "I think that our government sometimes does not put its support behind its military. It likes to talk a big show but it doesn't want to pony up when it's time."
Norman Copeland served from 1969 to 1989 in the U.S. Navy submarine force.
"I enjoyed my service. Some of it was tough," Copeland said. "Some of it was wonderful, but it's about these guys, the ones who really paid the price — the combat veterans who went to Vietnam, fought in Korea, fought in World War II — the kids who are over there still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — it's all about loving them."
Copeland is the Mississippi chairman of the National MIlitary Services Committee and he said he has seen young soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are in need of help.
"Our job is to take care of our active duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel. I'm constantly talking to these young kids, the ones dealing with PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder)," Copeland said.
There are young, homeless veterans in Meridian, Copeland said.
"In the last year we've taken two off the streets in Meridian and gotten them into homes, got them jobs. We got them out of the homeless network. These are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans," Copeland said. "I know of four more that we are working on right now trying to get them back off of the streets and integrated into society. One kid was living in a tent by Wal-Mart for a year. He's now in a home. He has a job. He has a car. He's doing well now. The other kid we had to move to Jackson, unfortunately, to find him what he needed. We got him treatment at a VA hospital and he's doing well now."
But the work continues, he said.
"You just don't realize how many guys are living in the woods, living under the bridges in tents. Some of them are in shelters. That breaks my heart," Copeland said. "As long as I see that, I will not stop doing what I'm doing."
At the Veterans Day program, moderator John Johnson called for a round of applause for all veterans present, for what they have done and for what they continue to contribute to the country.
"It means a lot to all of us that we have a free country that we must continue to protect, to save and to pray for," Johnson said. "We are Americans and we stand for what is right."
Keynote speaker was Senior Chief Petty Officer Kent Malone, a graduate of Meridian High School who went on to join the U.S. Air Force and eventually returned back home to serve at Naval Air Station Meridian.
"America is fortunate to have veterans who exemplify commitment to duty, who willingly display valor under fire and favor humility over glory," Malone said. "This notion of selflessness and sacrifice is the bedrock of our all volunteer force. These heroes have continually made their sacrifices on the altar of freedom to allow us to enjoy those freedoms. As all veterans know, freedom is not free."
Malone called upon veterans to give their support to the next generation.
"The torch of freedom must be carried on by the young men and women of today to fight the fight in the war on terrorism," Malone said. "They will need wisdom, guidance and leadership that members of our nation's VFWs, American Legions, Purple Heart, can provide."
David Sloan was chairperson for the Veterans Day ceremonies. A Washington, D.C. native, Sloan has lived in Meridian for 20 years. Sloan served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War era, from 1966 to 1970.
Sloan's grandfather served in World War I; his father served in World War II; and he had uncles who served in Korea.
"Veterans Day is a special day to honor all those who served to defend our country," Sloan said. "I'm glad I have had the honor of participating and coordinating this year."