World War II veterans recognized

Published 4:47 pm Thursday, May 3, 2007

Mississippi veterans, including several Pearl River Countians, who served at the Normandy Invasion during World War II were honored by France at a reception held at the Thad Cochran Center at the University of Southern Mississippi on Wednesday.

The Honorable Philippe Ardanaz, Consul General of France, presented approximately 60 veterans with certificates on behalf of the French people honoring the veterans for their service on June 6, 1944, best known as D-day.

Cindy Smith, who works with the Veterans Affairs in Pearl River County, said “Pearl River County is one of the top counties as far as veteran population is concerned.” She said there are a large number of Korean and Vietnam veterans who call the county home, in addition to those who served in World War II.

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Smith said she believes 15 veterans from the county actually served on the beaches of Normandy, and about eight of those were in attendance at the ceremony.

One of those veterans was M.L. Hall of Picayune. Hall served in the 969th field artillery. He landed on the Normandy beaches six days after the initial invasion. Hall said he was 20 years old at the time.

Hall also fought in battles at Belgium and Luxembourg, and was injured when a gun that had misfired recoiled and hit him. He was hospitalized in Germany for a week, and received a Purple Heart for being wounded in action.

Another local veteran was Edward Earl Stuart, Stuart served in the Navy aboard LST Ship 139, which was one of the ships that transported troops to the Normandy beaches. Stuart said his ship made 55 trips back and forth to deliver troops to the invasion point on the beaches.

Stuart joined the Navy in 1943, and was 17 years old at the time of the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944, although he turned 18 four days after the invasion began.

Stuart also is the father of Pearl River County Sheriff Joe Stuart.

Another D-day veteran, Sedric W. Smith was in the 82nd reconnaissance battalion, which was part of the Second Armor Division. He landed on the Normandy beaches on the second day of the invasion and was 22 at the time.

Remembering the invasion, Smith said, “It was rough. It was so cluttered on the beaches. … We went in on the second morning and plugged a hole in the front line. It was a mad fight from there on out.”

Welcoming speeches were given at the event by USM French language instructor Keltoum Rowland, Executive Director of the State Veterans Affairs Board Adrian Grice; Jo Leslie, who chairs the Mississippi State Veterans Affairs Board, and Mississippi State Sen. Tom King. Other speakers included Dr. Andrew Wiest, a USM history professor; Aaron Watkins, a USM history student who spoke about his visit to the beaches of Normandy, and Lt. Col. Charles S. Mitchell, who chairs the Department of Military Science at USM.