By Lena Mitchell | NEMS Daily Journal
Years spent living away from Northeast Mississippi haven’t lessened native son B.G. Garrison’s strong attachment to his home community in Tippah County.
In fact, for the past 20 years the Buena Vista native has been in charge of planning Garrison family reunions at Fellowship Baptist Church just outside Ripley.
As part of a large family that includes his own adult children and siblings with adult children and grandchildren, Garrison says now that he’s reached the age of 89, there are others who can carry the tradition forward.
“I was born in poverty in Buena Vista,” Garrison said. “Mother died in 1939 giving birth to the 10th child.”
Though his parents never went farther than sixth grade in school, they impressed on the children how important education is, so that has always been a priority.
Within the Garrison family, B.G. Garrison has made his mark by working to keep memories and traditions alive and strong for generations to come.
Outside of his family, however, Garrison made an impact during his military service in World War II that earned him the Silver Star Medal.
His post-war years as a public servant spans several states and created a legacy that laid the groundwork for many of today’s health awareness programs.
“I graduated from Buena Vista (in) 1941 and was a pretty good basketball player, so I got a half scholarship to Northwest Junior College,” he said.
“To make it I played basketball, but I also killed hogs, worked in the field and milked 13 cows morning and night.”
The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, altered his direction. He continued school through the second semester and spent the summer of 1942 working in a TNT (explosives) plant in Oklahoma and Alabama. But later in 1942, he signed on to join the fight.
“Me and three buddies went to Memphis and volunteered for the Navy,” Garrison said. “We shipped out to San Diego, Calif., with the 5th Marine Division.”
The training Garrison received as a medical corpsman, called a pharmacist’s mate, required months in Bremerton, Wash., Farragut, Idaho, and ultimately to Camp Elliott, Calif., for the specialized training he would require to serve as a corpsman with the Marines.
After Garrison’s Marine division was transferred to Hilo, Hawaii, they didn’t know where they would be sent to engage in the war.
They learned a short time before the invasion of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945, that they would be part of that operation.
The months of training he had received and Garrison’s own heart and determination prepared him for his lifesaving that was honored with the Silver Star.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as a Battalion Aid Man, attached to the Fifth Pioneer Battalion, Fifth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces of Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands on March 23, 1945, when well-concealed enemy machine guns caused casualties among forward elements of the advancing troops and one severely wounded Marine lay helpless directly in the line of fire, Garrison worked his way to the injured man 50 yards ahead of the line and after rendering first aid, carried the casualty to safety through a barrage of fierce machine-gun fire,” reads a portion of the Silver Star citation.
Garrison’s wartime experiences as a young 21-year-old shaped much of the man he became.
However, after his discharge from the Navy on Feb. 14, 1946, Garrison refocused on the core principal instilled by his parents – the value of education – and earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at Delta State University.
He then taught in Mississippi before taking a teaching job in Arkansas for higher pay, where he met his wife, Peggy J. Harris Garrison. Their three children are Glen Garrison of Louisiana, Don Garrison of Ridgeland and Kathy Scott of Memphis.
“We’re real proud of those children,” he said.
Garrison’s push for educational excellence next took him to Ann Arbor, Mich., where he earned a master’s degree in public health education.
Being hired by the Kansas Tuberculosis Association, then recruited to return to work for the Mississippi State Tuberculosis Association, is where he made an indelible mark on state health education programs.
“I had a mannequin called Smoky Sam that I would take around with me and taught anti-smoking programs in at least 100 schools in the state, as well as Rotary, Lions Clubs, women’s auxiliaries and any time someone would invite me to come,” Garrison said.
In fact, when Garrison joined the Mississippi State Department of Health in 1974, he asked the governor to discontinue allowing cigarette sales in the state capital’s coffee shop to set a better example for the healthy lifestyles they were working to promote. He worked in that role until retiring in 1987.
“I would go to Ripley, Lee County, Alcorn County, about 43 counties to recruit volunteer chairmen to sell Christmas Seals for the tuberculosis association,” Garrison said. “At the same time I was involved in smoking education and consider myself the pioneer in smoking education in Mississippi.”