Love of country: Veteran honored by Picayune Exchange Club

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 13, 2015

Carl Sampson's yard was chosen as the 2015 Picayune Exchange Club's "Proudly We Hail" award.  Photo by Jeremy Pittari.

Carl Sampson’s yard was chosen as the 2015 Picayune Exchange Club’s “Proudly We Hail” award.
Photo by Jeremy Pittari.

“Actually, if you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them and up my spine is growing this red, white and blue stripe.” –– Walt Disney.

Each year the Picayune Exchange Club awards the “Proudly We Hail” award to a local business and resident who maintains an attractive and proper display of the American flag.
The National Exchange Club is a service organization comprised of more than 650 clubs in the United States, Picayune Exchange Club President Karla Kendrick said. The club promotes Americanism, youth projects, community service and the prevention of child abuse.
Wednesday, the group recognized this year’s winners of the patriotic accolade.
“Promoting pride in country, respect for our flag and appreciation of America’s freedom are the primary purposes of the Exchange’s Americanism program,” Kendrick said. “No other symbol better symbolizes love for country more than our American flag.”
The 2015 business recipient of the “Proudly We Hail” award was Highland Community Hospital.
“As a veteran myself and having a son serving in the infantry in the U.S. Army, it’s very important that we continue to instill those values in the people we come into contact with,” Highland Community Hospital Administrator Mark Stockstill said. “We live in a society that is drifting away from our founding fathers’ principles. At Highland, we think that if we want to have a better community, we have to do our part. Our mission goes way beyond the borders of the hospital’s campus and this is something we just do, never expecting to get any recognition for it.”
When Kendrick spoke of this year’s residential recipient, she expressed how special this particular home is.
Each year, Exchange club members seek out and nominate the home with the best patriotic qualifications, Kendrick said.
“When I drove in front of his house, I said ‘this is it,’” Kendrick said. “When I went back to notify them of their award, I saw this person standing in the garage and to me, it made it extremely special.”
At first glance of the flag display, Kendrick was unaware the home she had chosen belonged to Picayune native and United States Marine and Army National Guard veteran Carl Sampson.
On September 12, 2003, Sampson and other members of his unit were injured when an IED detonated underneath their truck during deployment in Iraq, Sampson’s wife Kelly said.
“The entire left side of his face was blown off and he lost his left eye,” she said. “He was in a wheelchair for three years and couldn’t walk or talk.”
Sampson underwent several reconstructive surgeries and had to relearn basic information such as colors, numbers and how to walk again.
Two-years ago, Sampson underwent emergency brain surgery, where he lost both his long-term and short-term memory.
Gradually, some of his memory has returned, however, he often tells people, “I might not remember I’ve met you when I see you again.”
Two-years ago the couple decided to decorate their yard with American flags. There are six flags flying in the front yard and one flies in the back yard over a soldier statue.
“When they come here, they know we love our country,” Carl said. “This is for the men from our little town that went over to another country and made it back.”
Senator Angela Hill also presented Sampson with a flag, which was flown in his honor at the Mississippi State Capitol on May 25.
“When I hear about the story of your strength and courage, it makes me proud every day to be an American,” Hill said. “You are a true American hero and patriot.”
For Kendrick, Wednesday’s ceremony proved to be an emotional one.
“He was very humbled by the award and the whole experience has been surreal,” Kendrick said. “He has given a lot for his country and community.”
Sampson’s good friend, Mike Gerken does not pass an officer in uniform or a veteran without thanking them. It was in this manner that they met at a Carriere restaurant about 8-years ago.
“He’s one of a kind,” Gerken said. “He’s taught me perseverance and his daily struggles puts our day-to-day struggles in a different light.”
During Wednesday’s presentation, Carl spoke of the love he possesses for his country.
“These guys that go to another country and fight, they can’t handle fighting without knowing the reason why they’re fighting,” Carl said. “So that’s why I put the light there, because I figured it will be there around the clock when one of them is gone, it will never be dark. Every day they will know that we have people that do care for America.”

honored: Sampson spoke of his love for America during Wednesday’s ceremony.  Photo by Jeremy PIttari.

honored: Sampson spoke of his love for America during Wednesday’s ceremony.
Photo by Jeremy PIttari.

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