Reception started 3 years ago following a soldier’s funeral

Published 3:57 pm Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A local event to honor veterans of the United States armed forces started three years ago at a fallen soldier’s funeral procession.

Three years ago Pearl River County buried Army Sgt. Jerry Clark Burge, who was killed in Iraq.

There was a funeral procession down Goodyear Boulevard in honor of the fallen warrior, and a group of history students from Picayune Memorial High School’s history classes asked permission from school officials to go see the procession.

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They were given the okay, but had no idea of what would transpire out of the request and the funeral.

After the procession, some of the students walked over to a group of veterans who were also attending the funeral procession.

One of the students, says history teacher Allison Wheat, reached out to one of the veterans, shook his hand and said, “Thank you for what you have done for us and this country.”

Wheat said the veteran had tears in his eyes as he turned to his wife and said, “I have never felt this good before.”

As they walked back to class, one of the students asked, “Why can’t we do something to honor these veterans?”

The students began planning what would become the first “Armed Services Reception” at the school’s Kelly Wise Gymnasium.

That first year there were only 11 veterans who attended. The next year there were more.

On Friday, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the gym, expected for the third edition of the annual reception are more than 75 veterans who will participate in small group sessions with students, telling them of their experiences in serving their country while serving in the armed services.

This is only the third year it has been held, and the event just keeps growing every year, says Wheat.

Although it is being held in Picayune, it is for all veterans from throughout Pearl River County and adjacent area, says Wheat.

The Armed Forces Reception is now held each year on the Friday before Veterans Day so there won’t be any conflict with Veterans Day activities.

At this year’s event on Friday, the general public is invited to attend also, and there will be additional attractions.

Camp Shelby officials will participate with a display brought here from the Armed Forces Museum located at Camp Shelby. Active duty soldiers from Camp Shelby also will attend the event, says Wheat.

There will be Civil War era re-enactors who will sit up a Civil War camp on the grounds just outside the gym to give residents and students a look at what it was like to occupy a battlefield camp site nearly 150 years ago.

The camp site will be established by the 1st Regular Battery of the Louisiana Light Artillery. There will be cannon firing demonstrations, actual cooking demonstrations showing how the soldiers prepared their meals and what the soldiers in the camps actually ate. With the re-enactors will be a dance expert who will demonstrate some of the dances the soldiers performed during lulls in fighting. Rusty Racer is the commanding officer of the re-enactment unit.

“It has grown each year,” said Wheat, “and it started on that day when Sgt. Burge was buried. It seems like it was supposed to have happened.”

“We operate in small groups because we feel like there will be more intimate contact between our soldiers and students and residents, rather than having the veterans address a large crowd,” she said.

“It is more than just a speech. It will be an interaction between the veterans and students and citizens,” she said.

There is no charge for admission.

Many veterans will bring their war memorabilia for display at the event.

There will be sections set up honoring veterans who have died, and veterans who are currently serving their country. Also, families of veterans will bring their pictures and memorabilia for display and discussion.

“What we are trying to do is have one generation who served share their experiences with the next generation. That is what it is all about: Appreciation, communication and sharing,” she said.

The event is hosted by Wheat and Glenn Mitchell’s U.S. history classes and by the PMHS Navy Jr. ROTC unit.

To learn more about the event or about how to participate, contact Wheat at 601-798-1380 or 601-590-1068, or email:, or

The event is Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Kelly Wise gym at Picayune Memorial High School.