Thursday, July 12, 2006
By SUE WATSON
Nothing was left undone at a welcome home party Monday evening for the Holly Springs National Guard men and women who returned this year after a tour in Iraq.
The Collins-Hurdle VFW Post 5697 was provided as a set, a banquet table was overflowing, expressions of deep appreciation were made, and lots of individual attention was offered - all to help the soldiers and their families know how much their sacrifices are appreciated.
Pat Sullivan and his band, One Night Stand, entertained after the ceremonies. The evening was provided free by a community that wanted to show its appreciation including Post 5697 and the Ladies Auxiliary, The Clydesdale Christmas Store, and the Holly Springs Rotary Club.
Ronnie Luther, with the Christmas Store, opened with a word of thanks to the local men and women of the guard whom he called “a constant source of support for us in the community for many years.”
The Holly Springs Armory has provided storage space and a place for presentation of Christmas gifts to children of need in North Mississippi.
“When Bill Janssen (VFW post commander) asked me to come, I couldn’t think of any better reason,” Luther said. “It’s all about you.”
Ssg. Keary Jetton thanked Byhalia, Holly Springs and Marshall County as a whole for support for his detachment while in Iraq and introduced his soldiers by name - Sgt. Matthew Arledge, Sgt. David Binford, Jr., Spc. James D. Bomes, Sgt. Johnny Box, Spc. Timothy Buchanan, Spc. Morrie Douglass, Jr., Sfc, Rickie Fortner, Sgt. James Hamblin, Spc. Devin Jones, Spc. Freddie Jones, Spc. Lucas Marion, Spc. Lucas Marion, Ssg. Earl Pasco, Ssg. Stephen Poff, Spc. James Scott, Jr., Spc. Stewart Skelton, Spc. Stephen Vaughn, Sfc. Kerry Williams, and Marine Cpl. John Sexton (second tour in Iraq).
Jetton recapped the events beginning in April 2004 when the 155th Brigade received an alert notice of upcoming deployment to Iraq in which some 4,000 Mississippi National Guard men and women were called up.
The 98th Cavalry began packing, advanced 20 percent of the unit to Camp Shelby in July 2004, trained at Camp Shelby and in California’s Mohave Desert, and flew to Iraq in January 2005.
All soldiers of the 98th Cavalry returned, some with injuries, to an emotional welcome home party at the Capitol in Jackson earlier this year where Gov. Haley Barbour, the legislators and senators, the state VFW and VIPs expressed an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Mississippi’s National Guard, which has a rich history of service to the country since the first soldiers served in the Spanish/American War.
Jetton said the 98th Cavalry Troop had a lot of high priority missions.
“But I believe the families had it worst while we were away; they had to do without things,” he said.
John Rainey, past state commander of the VFW, summarized some visits to Guard units over the state while the 155th was deployed, including a blue ribbon day where guard families were recognized in Waveland, Miss., following Hurricane Katrina last August. He praised the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.
“If it were not for the Ladies Auxiliary, the VFW would not exist,” he said. “Ladies, you are the apple of our hearts.”
Mississippi Sen. Wayne Aldridge, a a combat veteran with injuries and now VFW state senior vice president, spoke of his loneliness after returning from war.
“When I came home, I came home by myself (without his buddies),” he said. “You guys stick together. The bonds you made over there will last forever. Go talk to your buddies when you get depressed.”
Looking over the older veterans, he invited the young vets to join the VFW and provide continuity of leadership for the organization.
“It’ll be for you guys to get up there and fight for veterans’ rights,” Aldridge said.
Linda Butler, deputy president of the Ladies Auxiliary to the VFW, welcomed her son back and encouraged the family support groups to join the Ladies.
“The VFW are veterans looking after veterans,” she said. “In the years people will forget what you did, but the VFW won’t. They will be your support when you need them.”
On behalf of the Rotary Club, president Lisa Cole spoke of her experiences following the September 11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.
“The words ‘thank you’ do not cover what y’all went through,” she said.
Cole accepted plaques of appreciation and flags flown in Iraq from Jetton.
Mississippi Sen. Charlie Ross, also a veteran of Desert Storm and member of the senate judiciary committee, praised the veterans of foreign wars and called the 155th Brigade.
“But the real heroes are the spouses and the families,” he said.
He said only about 18 members of the 155th didn’t return.
“When you go off to war, you still have kids and wives and lawns to mow. What makes the American fighting men so special from the fighting men of another country, I think, is because you are Americans. And, you are special because you are Mississippians. You are one of us.”
He presented Old Glory flown over the state house in Jackson to the Post 5697 and to Rotary while the 155th fought in Iraq.
Post 5607 Quarter Master Danny Tate, in remarks after the program, expressed thanks to the community - Holly Springs Piggly Wiggly, Carlisle’s Big Star, the Rotary Club, all state and local elected officials, and Clydesdale Store and Ladies Auxiliary volunteers “who helped make tonight a success.”
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