Memorial Day is the “unofficial” start of summer, but the day itself means so much more to all Americans. This is the day that we observe and honor those men and women who died while serving in the U. S. Military.
Since the establishment of Meridian in 1860, many citizens of our fair city have willingly and without hesitation stepped forward to defend our freedoms – many paying the ultimate sacrifice.
By the end of World War I, 34 men from Lauderdale County who answered the call would be lost. James Louis O’Flinn, from Meridian, a private in the United States Marine Corps, was one of those young brave men killed in action during the Battle of Chateau Thierry in France.
With the rumblings of another world war, Meridian’s newly established flying National Guard unit, the 153rd Observation Squadron, would be activated and called to duty on Oct. 15, 1940. The unit would serve in various locations, eventually shipping out to England in February 1942 and serving with great distinction during World War II.
Along with the unit’s distinctive service came a price of those lost such as 1Lt Paul F. Kimball, 1Lt Fleming D. Pierce, SSgt Charlie G. Cook, SSgt Wayne L. Wood and CPL Edward W. Vedder – all killed in action.
Just a short five years later, on a peninsula far away, the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would invade the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south. Again, citizens from Lauderdale County would faithfully serve like Sgt. First Class Pigford, a member of the 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army. He was killed in action while fighting the enemy in South Korea on March 8, 1951. How about “Pappy Snowden” as he was referred to by his men? MSG Homer Lester Snowden of Bailey served in both World War II and the Korean War. He was killed in action while fighting in South Korea on Feb.12, 1951, serving with the 3rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, U. S. Army.
Shortly after the Korean War ended, the United States involvement in Vietnam would begin. The Vietnam War bitterly divided Americans and protests against the war were common.
Many from East Mississippi would answer Uncle Sam’s call to service despite this conflict’s unfavorable popularity. Dr. William Preston Simmons, whose love of helping others and flying, served as a flight surgeon with the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing at Cam Ranh Air Base, Vietnam. In addition to his medical duties, Capt. Simmons regularly flew combat missions. On Sept. 3, 1966, while returning from a mission, his F-4C Phantom II aircraft, like the aircraft that will be displayed in the East Mississippi Veterans Memorial Park, disappeared from the controllers’ radar scope. It was later learned that the aircraft had crashed into a mountaintop. A board of inquiry was never able to determine the real cause of the crash, but two brave crew members were lost that day.
The most recent world conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan, have taken loved ones from East Mississippi. Army Specialist Terry K.D. “Dantez” Gordon of Shubuta died Dec. 17, 2013, in Now Bahar, Afghanistan, in a helicopter crash along with five other crew members due to enemy fire.
The United States continues operations throughout the world with thousands of brave men and women in harms way. From the Revolutionary War to present day, we must always remember our airman, soldiers, sailors, marines and coast guardsmen, past and present, who have given their lives in defense of our great nation.
The East Mississippi Veterans Memorial Park is being established as a perpetual memorial to honor, recognize, and remember all the men and women from Meridian and East Mississippi, past and present for their faithfulness to American.
Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings, and participating in parades. How great it will be when Meridian and East Mississippi has a Veterans Memorial Park so that we can have a place of reverence to observe this significant holiday in our nation's history.
Jeffrey G. Summerlin, president, East Mississippi Veterans Foundation, www.emsvf.org