Remembering Memorial Day in Northeast Mississippi

TUPELO – Memorial Day is about much more than hamburgers and cookouts to Adrian Caldwell.
Her father, Staff Sgt. Leroy “Babe” Leist, died in World War II when she was 16 months old. His bomber crashed off the coast of Holland in 1944, killing the 10 crew members on board.
Four bodies were recovered in the water. Leist was among the six servicemen who were never found. The 26-year-old is still listed as MIA.
“I don’t have any memory of him, but it doesn’t matter,” said Caldwell, who describes herself as a WWII orphan. “He’s still my daddy. I still want to bring him home. They’ve been gone too long.”
Caldwell and her Army veteran husband, Robert, have been searching for the plane for 10 years. They’ve been to Holland several times and spent last Memorial Day there, where the Dutch people are helping her with the search.
They think they’ve found the plane, but need the U.S. government’s help to get it salvaged.
So far, she said she’s been unsuccessful in getting the government to recover the plane. She said she’s been told that it’s a cost issue.
“So I asked them, ‘What price do you put on the six men who gave their lives? I’m about to cry just thinking about it,” Caldwell said Monday morning.
This year, the Caldwells joined about 100 men and women in Tupelo for the annual Memorial Day ceremony in Veteran’s Memorial Park. The attendees wore red, white and blue or their military insignia.
They sang the national anthem and “God Bless America,” but for the most part they were quiet. The sounds of flapping flags added to the solemn atmosphere.
The prayer thanked those who made sacrifices for maintaining America’s liberty and for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. A moment of silence was held for Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Self, a Pearl native who died this month in Afghanistan.
Ann Karoly, wearing a silver dogtag around her neck, sat in the back under the shade of a tree. She’s a Navy veteran, as was her husband, who served for 26 years.
“I’m here to honor all of the veterans, including my husband,” she said.

Want to know more?
Adrian Caldwell of Tupelo is trying to get her father’s body recovered. He died in 1944, when his plane went down off the coast of Holland.
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Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

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