HONORING OUR FALLEN: Northeast Mississippi honors veterans in many ways

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

To children who climb its ropes and slip down its slide, the name of Ecru’s Cpl. Blake Mounce Park and picture of Pvt. Barry Mayo on the town gazebo may be an abstract, as distant as the Iraqi landscapes where both were killed by roadside bombs.
To the families and friends of Mounce, a Marine, and Army soldier Mayo, however, those recognitions mean that their communities remember and honor those young men’s lives and their ultimate sacrifice.
Several communities in Northeast Mississippi have made efforts to remember their war dead in tangible ways.
In Algoma, there’s a stone monument in memory of Air Force Staff Sergeant John T. Self, who was also killed by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad in 2007.
Alcorn Countian Bobby McDaniel is urging local officials to memorialize Army Staff Sgt. William Ricketts, killed in battle in Afghanistan earlier this year, by naming a road for him.
“We want the sign to say, ‘Staff Sgt. Seth Ricketts Veterans Memorial Drive – dedicated to all who have served, are serving and will serve,’” McDaniel said. He added that some residents have voiced opposition, however, because servicemen of other eras were not singled out for such honors.

New memorials
Confederate monuments are common in Southern towns, and the region joins the rest of the country in commemorating war dead from World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
It was the current war that prompted the Lowndes County town of Caledonia to create its first such memorial after losing two of its own in the Iraq War.
“About three years ago we did a veterans memorial in Ola Pickett Park,” said Alderman Brenda Willis, who headed the memorial committee. “Mr. Glen Freeman, who recently passed away, was the main person behind it.”
Army Staff Sgt. Brian Freeman, son of Glen and Patricia Freeman, died in 2005 in a battle in Iraq.
Patricia Freeman said the experience was an eye-opener.
“It was an honor that Brian rightly deserved, and it made me proud to see so many people help honor him and all the other servicemen,” she said. “I didn’t realize how important the military was to people until we lost Brian.”
Willis said the effort to build the monument, which honors the area’s war dead from all generations, strengthened an already close community.
“We’re just a real patriotic community,” she said. “We had talked about it in years past, but when one of your own is killed in service, it makes it more urgent.”
Iuka was similarly spurred to remember its heroes from wars past and present when an IED in Iraq made Army Sgt. Jason Vaughn the latest Tishomingo County casualty in 2007. The city and local residents built a series of markers at Iuka Mineral Springs Park.
“There’s a different monument for each war,” Mayor Jackie Bryant said. “We also did one in memory of the people killed in 9/11.”
Lafayette County has begun developing a small park adjacent to the State Veterans Home and the VFW/American Legion hut in Oxford as a memorial both to those who gave their lives in military service and those who survived but have since passed on.

Fitting in new names
In some communities, memorializing casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been as simple and inclusive as carving their names into existing monuments.
Becky Lambert’s son, Marine Sgt. Jonathan Lambert, died in 2003 after a Humvee accident on his way home from Iraq. She watched as her son’s name was carved into the memorial in front of the Prentiss County Courthouse, and as gratifying as the tribute is, Becky Lambert, who works across the street from the courthouse, never knows how it will affect her.
“It hurts when you walk by it,” she said. “There’s pride there, but sometimes … you can’t breathe, knowing his name is there.”
Pontotoc County has added four names – Mounce, Mayo, Self and Marine Lance Cpl. Lucas Tucker – to the memorial on the southeast corner of the courthouse square.
In other communities, it’s not so simple. The Lafayette County veterans memorial is a bronze plaque that lists residents who gave their lives in wars from WWI to Vietnam. When Army 1st Lt. Donald C. Carwile of Abbeville died in 2008 from an IED and a firefight in Afghanistan, his name was carved into a separate slab of marble, which was placed at the foot of the existing memorial.
Starkville-area residents have a similar problem. The current monument features a tablet design filled with the names of servicemen killed in previous wars, but when Army Sgt. Courtland Kennard was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006 and Army Cpl. Taylor McDavid was killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad in 2008, the need for another became obvious.
“There’s no place to put them on the monument,” said Jeff Donald, co-chair of the military affairs committee of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.
Partnership members hope to raise $10,000-12,000 for a new but similar monument that would provide room for recent and future casualties.
“We should honor these,” Donald said. “If we don’t put their names down there somewhere, their memory will be lost, and we don’t want that to happen.”

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Donations for the Starkville memorial can be sent c/o GSDP, 200 E. Main, Starkville, MS 39759.

See photographs of Northeast Mississippi fallen soliders in today’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.