By Jennifer Lenain, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
In observance of United States Armed Forces Day, Picayune Memorial High School hosted the annual Jerry “Chip” Burge Jr. Memorial Armed Forces Reception on Friday.
Veterans of the Armed Forces gathered in the Kelly Wise Gymnasium to share their stories and memorabilia with students of PMHS.
In April 2007, Army Staff Sgt. Jerry Clark Burge Jr. was killed in the line of duty.
Bobbie and Glen Kennedy, relatives of Burge, displayed his memorabilia at the reception for students to see and spoke about their nephew.
“It’s very inspiring,” PMHS freshman and Junior ROTC member Tristion Stuart said. “This gives us a better understanding of all the work they did.”
On the day that Sgt. Burge was buried, there was a procession down the main boulevard in town and the school administration allowed students to watch the procession.
Several members of the local VFW post were standing nearby and a female student walked over to one of the gentlemen, shook his hand and thanked him, and multiple students followed suit.
The idea for the reception came when the students decided they wanted to do something special for veterans and members of the Armed Forces.
“I appreciate the Veterans,” PMHS freshman and Junior ROTC member Kayla Phillips said.
Henry William Lewis Jr. and his wife, Lola, have attended the memorial reception every year since it began in 2007.
Lewis enlisted in the Navy during World War II and served two years.
During his two years he was active on three different American Naval Fighting Ships, one of those was the USS Rednour (APD-102) that was assigned to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater.
Lewis was on the Rednour on the night of May 27, 1945, when it was attacked by suicide planes and crashed the stern.
“A lot of it you need to forget,” Lewis said to PMHS junior Matthew Adams. “There were none (good memories),” he said.
“Growing up, no one worried about having to work hard or going without because we knew our boys were working so hard overseas,” Lola Lewis said.
Army Special Forces Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Billy V. Bean shared stories from his 20 years of service and was accompanied by his wife, Leta Bean, who served five years in the Air Force as a Communicator.
“All that time, I never lost a man,” Bean said. “Almost, but I didn’t.
“That was the most important thing that was assigned to me and I take pride in that,” he said.
Bean successfully completed multiple tours in Vietnam.
“I was awarded my first Purple Heart Medal in February 1967,” Bean said. “I received three more after that.”
Bean has 27 awards total from his service, including a Silver Star Medal and two Bronze Star Medals, he said.
“I have been to this reception three times,” Adams said, “it gets better and better each year.
“I thank Mrs. Wheat, without her it wouldn’t be possible,” he said.
PMHS teacher Allison Wheat has organized the reception since 2007.
Armed Forces Day is celebrated annually on the third Saturday in May and stems from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department, the Department of Defense.