By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Hundreds of people spent Saturday admiring airplanes and honoring war veterans.
The highlight of Saturday’s North Mississippi Aviation Expo at Tupelo Regional Airport was a missing man formation flown Saturday night.
A Huey helicopter, flown by Army Aviation Heritage Foundation members, dropped gallons of rose petals over 104 American flags. The flags represented the 104 Mississippi men and women who have died in war or from acts of terrorism since 1991.
This year’s seventh annual petal drop was dedicated to veterans of the Vietnam War.
The missing man formation is an aerial salute in which four planes fly in a V formation and one of the aircraft pulls up and splits off, signifying and honoring those fallen.
After the formation flew, Marine Cpl. Richard Caron explained why an empty table was set up near the runway.
The table was set for six, one seat for each branch of military and one civilian seat.
“The single red rose reminds us of the life of each of the missing,” Caron said. “The vase is tied with a red ribbon, a symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing.”
Vietnam War veteran Billy Henderson said events like the petal drop mean everything to veterans.
“It shows that people support you,” Henderson said. “A guy might think nobody cares but this shows people care.”
The aviation expo featured military and civilian planes from World War II to the present as well as exhibits from aircraft brokers, maintenance facilities and the Mississippi State University, Delta State University and Hinds Community College aviation programs.
Pictures of each of the 104 Mississippians who have died at war were displayed in a memorial inside the veterans’ hangar, courtesy of the Marine Corps League. Attendees spent a moment of silence paying their respects at the wall of photographs.
The first aircraft most people noticed was a World War II Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon parked in the center of the expo.
The World War II bomber and pathfinder was restored by Dave Hanson of Heber City, Utah, and is operated by the Warbird Warriors Foundation.
“Our primary mission is to share it with veterans – who are unfortunately quickly disappearing – and their families,” said Hanson. “Very few people even know that American territory was actually occupied by the Japanese, but Attu and Kiska were invaded and occupied by the Japanese during World War II, and then we had to retake those islands.”
The plane was flown in the Aleutian Islands during World War II to interrupt Japanese ships as they moved around the Attu and Kiska islands.
Another notable plane is the T-6 Texan II, the United States Air Force’s primary training aircraft. Air Force Maj. Mark Hickman stood on the plane’s wing talking to onlookers about its job.
“This plane is awesome,” he said. “It’s a replacement for the old T-37 that was built in the ’50s. The Air Force decided to upgrade and this is what they came up with. It’s a great initial trainer for students – very forgiving. It flies really easily and we teach students to fly, in nine or 10 flights, by themselves.”