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Locals march on Memorial Day to remember veterans

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Veterans of the armed services, left, lead the annual Miss-Lou Memorial Day walking parade past a large live oak tree at the Natchez City Cemetery on Monday.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT
Veterans of the armed services, left, lead the annual Miss-Lou Memorial Day walking parade past a large live oak tree at the Natchez City Cemetery on Monday.

NATCHEZ — The freedom to live life has its cost, military veteran Marlon Richardson said as he looked out on the Natchez National Cemetery Monday.

“War knows no holidays,” Richardson said. “This is our way of saying thank you.”

Richardson retired as a captain from the military after serving as a helicopter pilot. He spoke to a small group at the peak of the cemetery during the Miss-Lou’s Memorial Day Parade about the value of remembering veterans.

Many members of the group listening to Richardson’s speech walked nine miles to get to the cemetery as a part of the Miss-Lou’s annual Memorial Day parade.

Miss-Lou residents began assembling at Zion Baptist Church. Another group began assembling on U.S. 84.

Whether on foot, all-terrain vehicle, car, motorcycle or motorized wheelchair, both crowds merged at the foot of the Natchez-Vidalia bridge before crossing the Mississippi River.

Some were content to stay behind and cheer on family and friends.

One particularly charismatic group of friends was celebrating their 15th high school reunion from Vidalia High School.

“We came from all over — Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi — to celebrate our reunion,” said Shameka Burton, a 1998 graduate of Vidalia High School. “Last night we had a prom and today we are all marching together.”

But the Vidalia group wasn’t the only one reunited with friends and family. Command Sgt. Maj. Warren White traveled more than 15 hours to be in the parade’s color guard.

“It means a lot to me to come home and to participate, both as a veteran myself and as an American,” White said. “I graduated from Vidalia High School in 1981 and have been deployed nine times. I still know lots of people here; it’s great to see family and friends.”

As the red, white and blue peppered crowd crossed the Mississippi River, it marched to the band’s continuous drum beat, and danced to the sounds of horns.

The crowd paused at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center. At that point, the parade turned into a block party. The band, comprised of drums and horns, played patriotic tunes as the dance line grooved to the music. The parade left the visitor center after losing groups of marchers to fatigue and adding a fire truck.

Sirens blared while the crowd snaked through downtown Natchez.

At the front of the pack was a group of motorcycle-riding friends.

“We call ourselves the Bikers With Bikes That Light At Night,” group member Walter Mackel said. “Each of our bikes are named. Mine is called the Starship Enterprise.”

Throughout downtown Natchez, bystanders cheered marchers while they stepped and sweated their way to the cemetery.

With tombstones in sight, the band began to play “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Once at the foot of the cemetery, the crowd grew silent as they swayed up the hill to the drum beat.

Once the parade — now only consisting of the band and color guard — reached the top of the hill, the Natchez High School JROTC presented the colors and the parade ended.

A small group remained to sing patriotic songs, and listen to Richardson’s speech.

“The voice of a loved one, heard in a distant memory, in our minds, is a constant reminder that they are gone,” he said. “But the key component of our nation’s greatness is our ability to honor our fallen.”