Under a bright and sunny sky, United States Armed Forces veterans and members of the community gathered in downtown Meridian on Saturday for a Veteran’s Day ceremony to honor men and women who have proudly served their country.
In a stars-and-stripes sea of uniforms, jackets and hats emblazoned with patches and emblems, the patriotic crowd, which had gathered in front of the Doughboy Monument at the intersection of Sixth and Seventh Streets and 23rd Avenue, was a congenial group – greeting old comrades and friends, shaking hands, laughing, reminiscing.
“Today is very special to me because it’s to remember the veterans, the MIAs and the POWs that did not get to come home,” said Richard Nelson, 72, who served 22 years in the Navy. “I left a lot of brothers and sisters in Vietnam, and this is to honor them.”
Respect for the sacrifices of veterans who have defended the nation was of paramount importance to veteran Richard Hassenfratz, 68, as well.
“I see that in the country nowadays, we have lost our nationalism and patriotism. We give in to the pressure groups and the people who disgrace the flag and kneel for the flag,” Hassenfratz said. “We need to reflect upon the sacrifices of those who are honored today and are not here that shed blood and gave their lives in defense of this nation so somebody has the right to protest, that have the right of freedom of speech, to have the right of freedom of assembly and the right to keep and bear arms.”
Edward Bishop, 93, a World War II Army veteran, was accompanied by his daughter Vicki Ward. Bishop served under Gen. George S. Patton in Germany.
“He was quite a general. I guarantee it,” Bishop recalled.
Bishop was 18 when he joined the Army. He and his friends were brothers-in-arms called up after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“I lost some of my childhood buddies that I had been with in school – casualties of the war,” said Bishop, who was in the non-combat 101st Airborne Division. He and his comrades were tasked with picking up and transporting prisoners of war.
“Everybody had a job to do to get the war over with,” he said.
On being at the Veterans Day ceremony, Bishop added, “I look forward to this every year. I see some people that I haven’t seen in a long time, and there are some people that are now gone. I’ve been coming to this thing for many years. It’s a great big reunion.”
In addition to former servicemen and women, the ceremony drew many local families. Danny and Kim Palmer and their three-year-old son Jackson, attended to support their 23-year-old son whom will soon be commissioned in the Army and stationed overseas.
Angela Dove, whose husband Garry Dove, Sr., is serving in the Air National Guard in England, brought her four-year-old son, Garry Dove, Jr., to the ceremony.
During the ceremony, a certificate was presented to George Arrington, IV. Arrington, a 17-year-old Choctaw Area Boy Scouts Eagle Scout, led a group of fellow Troop 2 scouts in July to pressure-wash, clean and paint the Doughboy Monument.
The iconic monument, which depicts a World War I soldier, was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1927. Nine decades of pollution and the elements had tarnished it, so Arrington and his troop-mates stepped in to bring it back to its former glory for future generations to enjoy.
In their comments, the ceremony’s speakers stressed the importance of Veterans Day to the crowd.
“We take for granted every day, as we do the simple things in Meridian and all across the world, someone – some veteran – is somewhere in a hole, in a bunker, on a street in a city or in a country,” Meridian Mayor Percy Bland told the crowd. “I want to thank you all also for the service and the sacrifice that your families have had to endure while your loved ones were away.”
Guest speaker U.S. Air Force Command Chief Master Sergeant Ronald Arthur praised veterans and current servicemen and women for their valor in fighting wars and preserving peace both in faraway lands and at home.
“Therefore, it is fitting that we pause as a nation to recognize their service and sacrifices. As a nation, we are blessed with the freedoms that our veterans have secured. They fought to defend our country and our way of life, not only for us but for future generations of Americans.”
Arthur also touted veteran men’s and women’s invaluable knowledge and skills they acquire during their service years that contribute to the work forces in communities to which they eventually return as talented and dedicated civilians. Many of those veterans become teachers, doctors, engineers, social workers, first-responders, community leaders and elected officials, he added.
“They serve country and communities while making positive impacts, builder stronger futures and inspiring future generations to come,” Arthur said.
Patriotism on parade
Later on Saturday afternoon, the annual Meridian Veterans Day parade wound its way through downtown, past a jubilant, flag-waving throng of spectators.
Tiffanie Roberts, daughter of Meridian City Council Ward 1 councilman George Thomas, viewed the parade with her family, including eight-year-old son, Shawn, who described the parade as “cool.”
“I think it’s really important to bring Shawn out to see the veterans,”Roberts said.
“We discuss why we’re here and what Veterans Day is about. We have several family members that have served, and it’s just our way to honor them and all the other veterans.”
Jamie Matthews, of the United States Air Force, and Brandy Bond, of the Air National Guard, also attended the parade.
“It’s very enjoyable being a veteran and being with a veteran today,” Matthews said. “I like seeing all the people here. We had a lot better turnout than we did last year, and it’s a great day for it.”