Parade salutes area veterans

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 26, 2003

Hundreds of veterans and well-wishers turned out Saturday indowntown Brookhaven for the Veterans Parade and opening of theMilitary Memorial Museum in the old railroad depot.

“We had no idea it would be this well attended,” said Eric K.Boyd, an event organizer, while gazing at the crowd during hisopening remarks.

Event organizers had expected about 250 veterans to march in theparade. More than 300 showed for the event.

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“I think it went well,” said Chad Smith, another organizer. “Wehad more veterans show up than I thought. We had a few kinks, butit all worked out really well.”

They were also surprised by the sheer size of the crowd, Smithsaid.

Attendees stood three deep on both sides of the street at theold railroad depot to hear guest speakers and give thanks to theveterans for their sacrifices and service.

“That means a lot to us,” an emotional Smith said from thepodium. “I appreciate the turnout today. I appreciate the veteransfor what they’ve done.”

Speakers and those in the crowd shared “war stories” andrecollections of individuals’ heroic deeds during the morningparade. The parade stopped at the government complex for awreath-laying ceremony at the Lincoln County Veterans Memorial andreturned to the depot for a veterans reception and the museumopening.

Among parade riders, Lincoln County’s Inez Stephens, an ensignin the Navy Nurse Corps during World War II, said she reallyenjoyed the event and was grateful to the crowd.

“I thought it was an outstanding parade and ceremony,” she said.”It was very moving. I always cry when they play ‘Taps’ because welost so many young men.”

Stephens said she had a war memory that tied in well with theday’s events.

She was stationed in North Carolina at a base where Germanprisoners of war were kept and morning woke up and heard a noise ather second-story window. When she went to investigate, it was oneof the POWs tending garden beneath the window. He was whistling”Dixie.”

Jack Lucas, a Mississippi native and the youngest person thiscentury to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, said in hisremarks that it was towns like Brookhaven and the people who livein them that make this country great.

“It is small towns like this that give us our veterans,” hesaid. “Because of you, democracy has spread more than at any othertime.”

Later, he congratulated the event organizers on a fineevent.

“It went well. I think it’s magnificent for a small town to showtheir patriotic spirit and to give thanks to the veterans,” hesaid. “It was a good showing by the citizens.”

Thomas Simmons, the author of “Forgotten Heroes of World War II”about Mississippi soldiers and a Korean War artillery officer,reminded the veterans and crowd of the importance of winning WorldWar II and the odds stacked against the Americans as they wentforth to do battle.

“They had the most horrendous task that any man has ever takenon,” he said. “And somehow they succeeded in turning the tide.”

He also commented that the importance and cost of the war isoften underrated by the writers of high school textbooks. He saidmany children today are not learning the lessons taught by WorldWar II.

“I’ve been told that anyone under 50 (years old) doesn’t knowanything about World War II,” he said. “I sure hope that isn’ttrue.”

After the parade and speakers, veterans enjoyed refreshments inthe new Military Memorial Museum and were offered the firstopportunity to tour the displays.

Paul Walker, a Vietnam veteran who served through two tours,said he enjoyed the events.

“It makes you feel closer to your community and your fellowsoldiers,” he said. “I didn’t realize we had this many veterans inthis area.”