Honoring Our Vets: PRC and PMHS hold veterans ceremonies

Published 7:00 am Saturday, November 7, 2015

PRC High School NJROTC cadets demonstrated how to properly fold a flag during Friday's veterans ceremony.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

PRC High School NJROTC cadets demonstrated how to properly fold a flag during Friday’s veterans ceremony.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

By Jesse Wright and Cassandra Favre
Friday, students and faculty from Picayune Memorial High School and Pearl River Central High School paid tribute to the nation’s heroes during their respective annual Veteran’s Day celebrations.
Picayune Memorial High School packed the gym with their annual Jerry “Chip” Burge Memorial Armed Forces Reception Friday.
In the gym, vets were gathered in small groups around tables while students clustered around and listened to stories. Veterans from WW II to recent wars were present, and the students ranged from elementary age students to high school students.
The Memorial is a tribute to Burge, who was from Carriere and died in combat in Iraq in 2007, and it is also a time for area veterans to gather and share their stories with students and members of the community.
Allison Wheat, a history teacher at the high school, helps organize the annual event and she thinks it has proven popular with vets because it’s informal.
The students, she said, just love to hear the stories.
“They love to sit and talk with these men and women and listen to their stories because it comes alive with them,” Wheat said.
The memorial was started by Andy Seal as a senior project in 2007, and every year he returns to the event.
Seal said the event started with 12 or 13 vets showing up, and now around 200 come to share their stories. The veterans can come and go as they please, so not all of them stay all day.
“It’s very educational for the students,” he said. “You can read about it in a book, but when you hear a story from a veteran, it changes your outlook.”
He said the veterans enjoy the opportunity to share themselves, too.

“After these events, I’ve seen veterans choke up and say how much it meant to tell their stories,” he said.
In Carriere, PRC’s NJROTC cadets took to the football field for a military parade, which honored those who serve and have served in all branches of the military.
Hundreds in the stands watched as the Color Guard presented the parade of colors.
Each of the five military branches was honored with the presentation of the service colors and song. Audience members who served or currently serve were asked to stand and be recognized when their branch’s anthem was played.
Prisoners of war and servicemen missing in action were remembered with a ceremonial cannon shot salute fired by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Washington Artillery Battery, which includes members from Picayune and Slidell, Louisiana, PRC NJROTC Col. Todd Ryder said.
The guest of honor for the event was former Marine and current Mississippi District Four Congressman Steven Palazzo, who addressed attendees about the importance of thanking veterans.
“Mississippi is a military community,” he said. “We’re so fortunate to have so many active guard and reserve units in our state, and very fortunate to have so many veterans who decide to call Mississippi home. It makes us a very special place. Today, we celebrate the very few who sacrifice for so many. They answer the nation’s call without a moment’s hesitation. What do veterans want? They don’t want anything. They don’t do it for the fame or riches. But you know what we can do as a community to thank our veterans; is just thank them with a handshake or a hug means so much. A simple thank you goes a long way.”
Ryder said he believed this year’s performance was one of the best of any veteran’s ceremony the cadets have hosted.
“They poured their heart into practicing and their performance today,” Ryder said. “Those who have been before noted how truly wonderful this performance was. It’s not just their efforts and talent, but the genuine love they left on the field, they wanted to be out there and knew the impression it would leave on those in attendance.”
Air Force veteran Jim Saunders served from 1962 to 1986. He joined right after graduating high school, when the country was getting involved in the Vietnam War. He served in strategic air command, which didn’t have units in Vietnam, but he guarded nuclear weapons in Germany and Greece.
“This program was absolutely fantastic,” Saunders said. “None of my years in training school were as complicated and intricate as this was today. It was really super. As a veteran, it makes me realize people really do appreciate the sacrifices you make and also those of your support system, your family.”
Former Marine and National Guard member Thomas M. Smith joined the Marines in 1967, because he always dreamed of serving his country and his uncle, who was also a Marine, was his hero. He served in Vietnam, Bosnia and Desert Shield and said it wasn’t a nice time.
“I wouldn’t wish war on anybody,” Smith said. “People don’t really know how bad it is. This program is extremely well done and I really enjoyed it. I love to see young people commit to the military so young. It gives me chills to know there are people who really appreciate what we did.”

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