Veterans share experiences with students at Armed Forces Reception
Picayune students filed into the crowded gymnasium where several veterans were gathered to attend the Jerry “Chip” Burge Jr. Memorial Armed Forces Reception at Picayune Memorial High School on Friday.
Junior high and high school classes took turns visiting with the veterans throughout the day and listening to their experiences. The students would walk from table to table and sit in small groups to hear these former and current soldiers share their stories.
“We have veterans here from World War II to currently serving,” said Picayune Memorial High School World History teacher Allison Wheat.
The event was named in honor of Army Staff Sergeant Jerry “Chip” Burge, who was killed while serving in Iraq in 2007. Wheat said that she and her students watched the funeral processions for Burge, and that other war veterans were also in attendance. While Wheat was explaining to her students what the ribbons and pins on one of their uniforms meant, a girl in her class approached the veteran, shook his hand and said “thank you.”
“The rest of them followed like ducks all the way down the line,” said Wheat, who added that the soldier was moved to tears by the students’ gesture.
After this experience, Wheat said the students wanted to do something to honor the men and women of the military, so not long afterwards, they held the first Armed Forces Reception in the school library with 11 veterans present. It has grown every year since.
“There’s 45 veterans here right now and it’s not even 9:30 a.m. yet,” said Wheat, who added that more than 100 veterans have attended in the past, traveling from places as far away as Meridian to be a part of the day’s activities.
The event also included members of the Third Mississippi Infantry, Civil War Reenactors who brought firearms and memorabilia of the time period with them to show to the students. Bert Morlas, a senior student in one of Wheat’s classes, helped a younger student load and fire a musket in a demonstration for their classmates.
This is the second Armed Forces Reception of the year, as the school was forced to reschedule the event from May to November due to conflicts with state testing dates. It is the ninth time Wheat and her students have hosted the reception. Wheat said the students worked very hard on decorating the gym and are always eager and respectful as they interact with the veterans.
“I think this is a big deal, they’re the real heroes,” said student Anna Breland “It just means a lot that you get to sit and talk to them and hear their experiences.”