Picayune High honors veterans, present and past
Published 7:00 am Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Picayune Memorial High School hosted its annual Veterans Day celebration in the school’s gym on Friday in honor of local veterans.
The annual event was established after the death of staff Sgt. Jerry “Chip” Burge, Jr. who died while serving in Iraq in 2007, his aunt Bobbie Kennedy said.
Burge was beginning his third tour overseas when he was killed in action, Kennedy said.
“He knew the eventuality of it all,” she said.
But Burge kept going back to war because he felt that if he didn’t continue to do his work with demolition, he would be risking other men’s lives, Kennedy said.
“He couldn’t bring himself to not go back because he felt lives would be lost,” she said.
Burge earned three Purple Hearts during his tours abroad; one in Bosnia, one in Iraq and one after his death, Kennedy said.
In Bosnia, hesitating for one second after hearing his commanding officer call his name ended up saving his life, she said.
Burge and another soldier had been lured toward a building by a man screaming that his wife had been injured, Kennedy said. While he hesitated, the other man continued forward and was hit by the full force of the blast, resulting in his death. Burge survived, but was injured.
Despite his injuries, Burge continued to serve, Kennedy said.
“He was a hero,” she said. “His death impacted the community.”
She praised the event held at the high school for exposing military service and the effects of war to students.
“So many children don’t know what a Purple Heart is,” Kennedy said.
On Friday, classes were cut in half so students could go to the gym and speak with veterans who served in a span of several decades, wars and combat experiences.
Students walked between tables of veterans, carrying index cards or notepads full of questions for the guests.
Others gathered in large groups around one veteran, listening attentively while he shared his story.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Fred Freeman spoke with one student about his 28 years as an avionics maintenance chief in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Freeman told the student about his time serving in the Gulf War where he helped maintain F4 Phantoms and radar systems.
Stationed 180 miles from Iraq, Freeman said he was largely safe from physical combat, but the risk was still there.
Freeman said he joined the Marine Corps because he takes pride in the uniform and its history.
After spending a childhood touring the world with his father, who was in the Navy, Freeman said he knew it was what he wanted to do.
“It’s not a job, it’s a career,” Freeman said. “You really got to love what you do.”