Six die in service to country over past decade

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NATCHEZ — For many Miss Lou residents, this decade has been one of service and sacrifice — to their country and to the world.

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, service men and women all over the globe prepared for a showdown in the Middle East, and Mississippi and Louisiana were well represented.

Since the early stages of the war, the Miss Lou has laid six servicemen to rest and welcomed home thousands from multiple tours of duty.

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In mid-February 2003, Vidalia’s 1086th Transportation Company troops were deployed to Iraq.

During the nine months the troops worked in Iraq, more than 50 missions were completed in which the company offered logistical support from the Kuwaiti base covering more than 170,000 miles of the country’s rough terrain.

While families of the 1086th awaited the return of their loved ones, one Natchez family received word that their soldier had given his life for his country.

In April 2003, Natchez lost its first son in the Iraqi War — 22-year-old Cpl. Henry L. Brown with the Army’s HHC 2nd Brigade Command Group Unit 93 200.

But to Rhonda Brown-Hayes, April marked the loss of her only son.

Families in Concordia Parish were reunited as November 2003 brought with it Thanksgiving blessings when Vidalia’s 1086th was welcomed home.

In 2004 Monterey native Marine Pfc. Rick Morris, 20, died in late March after being hit by mortar fire while he was on patrol.

In January 2005, citizens of the Miss-Lou were called to serve once more in Iraq as the National Guard 155 Infantry Brigade of Natchez was deployed.

This was to be the last mission Staff Sgt. Elbert Washington’s military career before his retirement.

Washington was one of 3,500 men and women being deployed with the 155th Mississippi National Guard Infantry.

Since retiring from the National Guard, Washington said it’s good to be home, but knowing his fellow service men and women are out there fighting makes him wish he could go back.

“The guys that just left here and went over there — I knew all of them. It was kind of heart breaking to see those guys go in, and I wasn’t a part of them,” Washington said.

The family of Todd Partridge was notified on Aug. 27, 2005, that their son, husband and father had been killed by a bomb explosion while serving in Iraq.

The year ended on a more hopeful note as Natchez received news in December that the 155th Mississippi National Guard Infantry was finally coming home in January 2006.

Lance Cpl. Billy “BJ Brixey Jr., 21, a native of Vidalia was killed after a roadside bomb exploded near his convoy in Iraq in February 2006.

Brixey’s father Billy Brixey Sr., said while it’s been almost four years since the death of his son, the loss is still new to his family.

Brixey said his son always knew he wanted to be a Marine and wanted to make it his career, but the events of Sept. 11, solidified the decision in his son’s mind.

After spending three years of service in Hawaii, Brixey said his son made the decision to volunteer to go to Afghanistan.

“When he went to Afghanistan, he didn’t have to go. He volunteered to go, and he re-enlisted,” Brixey said.

Brixey said like many of his son’s friends, B.J. felt a calling to serve his country.

With his stepson, Adam Brownell, 21, serving in the National Guard now, the worries he has felt as a military parent have grown significantly, but the pride both of his sons have taken in their jobs is something with which he can’t argue.

But this year, almost a decade since the beginning of the Iraqi War, Brixey’s concerns have been shared by the families and friends of the National Guard’s 1st Battalion 155th Brigade who were deployed to Iraq in April.

This year has also been a year of loss for two families.

Army National Guard Sgt. First Class Severin Summers of Natchez died in August when an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan exploded.

Almost two months later, Natchez Native U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Shaw was killed after being stuck by an improvised explosive device on JoJo Island in the Philippines.

As both families have spent the year mourning the losses of their loved ones, Brixey said he hopes the people of the Miss-Lou don’t forget the sacrifices of all U.S. military men and women.

“The biggest thing is to not forget the sacrifices that not only the family makes, but the people who are over there make, too,” Brixey said.

Washington said one of the things he sees lacking in the Miss-Lou isn’t the dedication of men and women willing to serve, but the support of the community.

“People don’t show enough interest in (the war),” Washington said. “That’s the part that hurts the most. You go to other places and see people doing things for their veterans and people who are going overseas, but people here don’t care if it’s not their son or daughter or mom or dad and that’s the part of the whole deal that hurts the most.”