Members of the 367th Maintenance Company provided the 21-gun salute during Monday’s program.
Members of the 367th Maintenance Company provided the 21-gun salute during Monday’s program.
Veterans Day was celebrated Monday with speeches, music and a 21-gun salute.

It was a time to honor the service of all veterans and to say thank you for what they have done.  A good crowd gathered at Dewitt DeWeese Park for the annual program as well as at Choctaw.

The program in town started with the presentation of colors, the singing of the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and a devotional.

There was the laying of the wreath by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion Posts 138 and 238, and the Order of the Purple Heart.

Gold Star mothers were recognized.

Lt. Colonel William Henry, the former commander of the National Guard’s 367th Maintenance Company in Philadelphia, was the featured speaker.

Henry has a rich history with the local unit and the community. He recalled deploying for Iraq with the unit and the support the community gave.

“In 2003, Philadelphia and Neshoba County was called on to send the 367th Maintenance Company and the 298th Support Battalion to the battle fields of Iraq during the height of the insurgency,” Henry said. “When we climbed on to the buses at the armory, there was not a parking place to be had for miles. We left the armory, looped around the Court House and then came down this street (Beacon Street). The streets were packed. Before we left Neshoba County, we exited on Highway 16 under a giant American flag that the Reservation fire trucks had hoisted over the road. For miles, Neshoba County residents lined the street to send us off.

“You made us feel important. You made us feel that what we doing, we were doing was for you. And after 911, we were doing it for you,” Henry said.

Henry recalled that the community sent materials with the local Guard so they could live comfortably while they were in Iraq. That included air conditions, water heater, washing machines and driers, plywood and make shift showers.

“At the time, Iraq was a very hard to place to live,” Henry said. “While the sailors, soldiers and airmen across the nation were going weeks without showers, sleeping on the ground in tents and not getting clean clothes, not the soldiers from Philadelphia.

“We had hot baths. We slept in the air conditioned rooms and had clean clothes because Philadelphia and Neshoba County didn’t just care,” Henry said. “They owned the support of the military and their veterans they were sending out. (Before they left) we went down to the hardware stores and they said take what you need.”

Henry said at the time, there were no armored vehicles in Iraq.

“The Neshoba County community provided us with half-inch and three-quarter inch steel to build our own armor. As soon as we got to Iraq, we began fabricating our own armor,” he said.

“The armor plating you bought out our your pocket protected not only your soldiers but soldiers from West Virginia, Ohio, Arizona and many other states.”

Henry said that the community and congressional leadership petitioned to provide true armored vehicles for their units.

“Because of that, the 298th and 367th received some of the first armored vehicles shipped into the theater because of your actions,” Henry said.

When the deployment ended and the units came home, Henry said the return was just as special as the sendoff.

“You were glad to have us back and your love showed,” Henry said. “When we got off the plane in Jackson, many of you were standing there with the governor. Our buses were led by the Highway Patrol, the Neshoba County sheriff’s department, the Philadelphia and Choctaw police departments. We came home to a hero’s welcome. You didn’t forget.

“Peoples were standing on the side of the road in Carthage. When we came over the hill on Highway 16, there was that big flag. As we neared the city, the number of people increased 10 fold, waving flags, waving posters and cheering and screaming as if we had just stormed the beaches of Normandy. We turned the corner at the court house and there were hundreds of kids. “

Henry said there were two Vietnam veterans on the bus that day. They recalled when they came home from war, they came home to an empty bus station.

“One of them said he tried to deal with that for years,” Henry said. “Philadelphia made that right.”

After Henry’s speech, the public was updated on the progress to build the new Fallen Veterans monument. An artist’s drawing was revealed. Organizers hope to have the monument completed by Memorial Day in May 2020.

“It was a beautiful program,” said Cecil Hooker of the 238th American Legion Post. “We have many families in this country who’s loved ones served. Some died in action and are buried overseas. Some are still missing. This is a time to come together, little ones and older ones, and honor those who have been in the military service.”      

Hooker served in the Air Force from June 1952 to June 1956. He was a staff sergeant and finished his service in Shreveport as part of the Strategic Air Command.

He served as the emcee for the program. He is the treasurer adjutant of American Legion Post 238 in Philadelphia.