By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – After nearly 40 years, Chester Starks and other Vietnam veterans got the welcome home they deserved.
To most people passing up and down Highway 6 in Pontotoc County, the road marker that reads “Military Order of the Purple Heart Highway” may be just another sign. But to men like Starks, who carries the scars of war on his body, it means recognition for a sacrifice.
Saturday the stretch of Highway 6 in Pontotoc County was dedicated in honor of those men who were awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in combat. It’s the one award that no soldier wants but one they all proudly accept.
A Vietnam vet, the 68-year-old Starks owns three of the medals for being wounded on three different occasions.
“It’s a great feeling to see so many people worked hard to get this road dedicated for Purple Heart recipients,” said the Oxford resident. “Many of us felt we didn’t get the welcome home we deserved when we got home from Vietnam. This today says it all.”
More than 50 people showed up at the ceremony at the BancorpSouth Bank on Highway 15, including several Purple Heart recipients. Retired Brig. Gen. James Edwin Mitchell was among them.
Mitchell, awarded the Purple Heart while serving in Vietnam, was the event’s keynote speaker. Even though he owns a Purple Heart of his own, it was his late father’s medal he carried with him.
“We are here for an important process of honoring those who have earned the Purple Heart for Service,” said the Sherman native. “It’s fitting this is happening on the heels of Independence Day. This shows the endless lines of great patriots who have stepped up to serve this country. Mississippians have shed enough blood defending this country to cover this highway. For that we are thankful.”
Robert Bramlett, 75, helped to spearhead the efforts to get the stretch of highway rededicated. The Legislature made the official designation through a bill introduced by Sen. Nickey Browning, D-Pontotoc.
Like Mitchell and Starks, Bramlett received the Purple Heart after being wounded in combat.
“This means a lot to all of us,” said Bramlett. “Now when people ride down this highway they will hopefully think about the sacrifices so many have made for them to be able to make that ride. A lot of people made this day possible, and we are grateful to them all.”
As Mitchell spoke, how much the road dedication meant to the Purple Heart recipients was shown in their faces. Many dabbed tears from their eyes as Mitchell’s speech brought back memories and restored pride for some.
Richard Cox, an Army veteran, had never been physically wounded in war but the mental scars he said he’s endured are immeasurable. Seeing something so permanent put up to honor those like him was overwhelming.
“You never really know how appreciated you are as a soldier until something like this is done,” said Cox. “A lot of us come home and feel like no one cares about the sacrifices we made and the jobs we did for this country. But that sign is proof that someone cares.”
Bramlett said he hopes to get similar road dedications done all over the state.
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.