Memorial day: Honoring the fallen

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Karrie Weathers had a couple of deceased veterans on his mind on Monday morning, as he attended Tupelo’s annual Memorial Day program at Veterans Park.
Weathers, a veteran of the Korean War who lives in Eggville, thought about a pilot he served with during the war whose plane exploded in midair after Weathers had left. His thoughts also turned to Stephen Baldwyn, who lived not far from Weathers and who died in Iraq in May of 2005.
On Sunday, while placing flags on the graves of veterans buried in the Eggville ceremony, Weathers and his son lingered a little longer at Baldwyn’s plot.
“I remember when they brought his body back,” he said.
On Monday, he was at Veterans Park to pay his respects to those men and to all U.S. service members who have given their lives while serving their country.
Guest speaker Guy Mitchell told an audience of about 150 people not only is it important to remember these heroes, it is also critical to educate others about them.
“It is vital we do our part not to forget, and perhaps even more important to teach our younger generations never to forget,” he said. “… Today can be a teachable moment. We can educate our youth about what it means to leave home, family, church or job, all for the quality of life known as freedom.”
Monday’s program also featured an invocation and “Pledge of Allegiance” and the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
Mitchell laid a memorial wreath, and Bob Verell sounded taps at the close of the program.
During his remarks, Mitchell read the names of nine soldiers from Lee, Pontotoc, Tishomingo and Alcorn counties who have died on active duty since 2005.
“These men and other brave Mississippians have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf,” he said. “The rights we call freedom have come at the highest price of personal sacrifice, and we must not take it for granted today.”
Andy and Mitzi Davis of Tupelo did not have any particular solider in mind, but attended Monday’s program to thank all of those who have given their lives.
“We just want to honor those who have given us the right to be here and be free,” Andy Davis said. “We can take a few minutes of our day to honor those who have given their time, effort and a lot of lives so we can be free and live the lives we do today.”
Emery “Buck” Coffey of Tupelo said he comes to the program every year. The Korean War veteran remembered Benny Tallant, with whom he used to play as a child and who died in an airplane crash in World War II.
“It is a remembrance,” he said. “People come and remember those who have died.”
It was a solemn ceremony with the sound of the wind whipping the many flags at the memorial clearly heard during the silent pauses between speakers and performers.
“I wish we didn’t have wars, but we do,” Rob Gardner said during the invocation. “Because we do, I am so thankful for our U.S. military, for soldiers who say, ‘We will go.'”
Mitchell said Tupelo’s veterans memorial provides a great way for citizens to remember those who have served and those who have died.
“Let’s use it for teaching others the value of the lives of those men and women whose names appear here,” he said.
Tommy Locastro, who served in the Vietnam War and in Desert Storm, agreed, calling the memorial among the finest in the state.
“This is impressive,” said Locastro, who lives in Shannon. “We have a great veterans memorial, and it is the people who live here who built this.”
Locastro, whose four sons have also served in the military, said he was thinking about more than 300 people that either he or his sons knew who died at war.
Saltillo’s Melissa Pounders attended the program for the first time.
“It was great,” she said. “I will definitely be back.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com