Area honors the ‘greatest generation’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 11, 2000

Veterans and their family members paused Saturday as the bells of St. Mary Basilica in Natchez pierced the cold of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — commemorating the end of World War I and the national holiday it bore, Veteran’s Day.

Natchez honored area veterans and visiting Mississippians of the Mighty 8th Air Force with a parade through downtown that culminated in an address by grand marshall, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Burns.

Burns said it was only after the passing of time and a return trip to German concentration camps that he was able to reflect on the enormity of the war.

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&uot;Civilization has survived all the onslaughts … simply by the skin of its teeth,&uot; he said. &uot;It was a close thing, World War II.&uot;

Calling freedom the theme for the day, Burns reminded the crowd the United States rests on a foundation of liberty and it is for the preservation of liberty that men and women fought and died.

As other veterans noted throughout the day’s activities, Burns said the purpose of Veteran’s Day is not only to honor those who have served, but to pass the &uot;significance&uot; of what they do on to the next generation.

One of the highlights of the parade was a model of a B-17 Bomber, a mainstay of the Mighty 8th, built by Phil McGuire of Macon.

Named the &uot;Miss Virginia&uot; after his wife who recently passed away, McGuire said it took him several months to build the model like the one he flew as a ball turret gunner in WWII.

&uot;I finished my mission,&uot; he said. &uot;I came home and married my Miss Virginia.&uot;

Claudia Stephens, whose parents served in WWII, her mother as a W.A.V.E. and her father in the Mighty 8th, found it difficult to hold back tears when asked what it meant for the Mississippi chapter of the Mighty 8th to hold its reunion in Natchez.

&uot;His country meant everything to him,&uot; she said. &uot;On his tombstone are the words ‘my God, my family, my country.&uot;

&uot;Like Tom Brokaw said, these people really are the ‘greatest generation,’&uot; said her husband, Jack.

Marc Poole, a graduate student at Mississippi State University, became acquainted with several men of the Mighty Eighth while researching for his graduate thesis and chose to remember veterans by donning the customary leather bomber jacket an officer’s hat and parachute gear. &uot;They’ve kind of adopted me as their mascot,&uot; he said. &uot;I have a lot of grandfathers here.&uot;

Following the Natchez events, several veterans attended a &uot;Celebration of Freedom&uot; balloon release at Comer Funeral Home in Ferriday, La., to help raise money for a WWII monument.

As the balloons were released, President Clinton was speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the monument in Washington, D.C.

Wearing his Purple Heart, Clifton Hall of Sterlington, La., said he is pleased to see the monument finally become a reality.

&uot;I think it’s well-deserved,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s been a long time coming.&uot;