Charlie Hood of Meridian saluted the American flag, with four patches on the sleeve of his jacket – one for each branch of the military in which he, his father and brothers served.
Hood, who spent eight years in the Army, joined dozens of other veterans, community leaders and guests at a ceremony honoring veterans Friday.
It took place steps from Key Field, at the future site of the East Mississippi Veterans Memorial Park.
“It came naturally for me to join the military,” Hood said, adding that he knew nothing about the Army when he signed up to serve.
The East Mississippi Veterans Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization, plans to create a memorial in the empty grass lot where attendees of the event gathered on a blustery afternoon.
“All those who have worn the military uniform deserve the opportunity to be remembered so that their service and sacrifice for our community, state and nation might not fade or be forgotten with the passage of time,” said Jeff Summerlin, the president of the Foundation.
Design plans for the park include a pentagon-shaped plaza representing the branches of the military, a sculpture of a bald eagle, a freedom walkway, a wall of remembrance and a retired RF-4C Phantom II aircraft that once flew from Key Field, according to Summerlin.
Summerlin said the site is intended to honor the military – a constant part of Meridian's landscape – and educate and inspire younger generations.
The organization has raised approximately $47,000 of a $400,000 fundraising goal and the first $70,000 is needed by the beginning of next year to bring the RF-4C Phantom II to Meridian, Summerlin said.
The ceremony included a presentation of the colors by the Northeast Lauderdale Navy Junior ROTC honor guard, performances by the Meridian Community College Concert Choir, and a flyover by VT-9, a squadron based at NAS Meridian.
It is important to remember everyone who has served in the military and those who didn't make it home, said Ricky Nelson of Bailey.
Nelson, a Navy veteran who served five tours in Vietnam, has been trying to help raise money for the memorial project.
“I love the park,” he said. “It’s a good location. It’s a good idea.”
U.S. Representative Michael Guest (R), who represents Mississippi's 3rd Congressional District, was the guest speaker at the event.
“I am proud of what Mississippi has to offer each and every day and I am proud of our support of our military,” Guest said. “To our veterans, you risked your life to preserve this nation and our ideals of democracy, freedom and prosperity.”
The Foundation hopes to have the park in place for Veterans Day 2020.