Please pray for our veterans and service members

Published 10:46 am Monday, February 20, 2023

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It is with great gratitude that I write this. Something special and even magical occurred over the weekend of Jan. 28-29 at the Natchez Little Theatre. The production of “Welcome Home, Soldier,” a play I wrote, was brought to life by a wonderful director and cast. And the message it contained, that our veterans of all wars and especially World War II was warmly embraced by the audience.

Although “Welcome Home, Soldier” was inspired by one particular World War II and Battle of the Bulge survivor, the story of a veteran who returns emotionally affected could have applied to any veteran of any conflict.

Words on the page began the play’s journey. Then, those words were taken by the capable and caring hands of Judy Wiggins, an outstanding editor and dear friend. She carefully coaxed a theatre-length production which the Natchez Little Theatre Play Committee eagerly accepted and fine-tuned. Director Devin Arnold worked tirelessly for five weeks with the cast and crew turning the script into a memorable experience for both the performers and audience.

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Basically, the story is of the WWII veteran Gramps (Larry Smith) and his grandson Joey (Brighton Cromie), whose teacher wants students to bring an individual to class that they admire. A reluctant Gramps, still suffering from the mental ravages of war, wrestles with his decision, especially because he has incidents stemming from PTSD. He finally agrees with the encouragement of his daughter and Joey’s mom (Gabi Cromie), and a visit from his battle buddy Patty (Cooper Brumfield). A flashback occurs with Patty and young Gramps a.k.a. Buddy (Xander Shaifer) in the Battle of the Bulge where Patty dies. The Medic (Bill Radbone) was unable to save him.

Poignant moments occur when Gramps and Joey rummage through Gramps’ old truck revealing items he had during the war, including his Purple Heart and the bullet taken from his leg when he was shot.

Gramps goes to school and is welcomed by the teacher Miss Barrett (Ainsley Dupre’) and students Ava (Alexa Hardy), Sabrina (Brylee Cromie) Devonte (Conor Hardy), Laura (Anna Scott), and classmates Anna Green and Sabina Green. Students present their own guests (members of our community), and write sweet notes to Gramps.

Gramps realizes that “this old soldier” can leave the safety and comfort of his home and bring his and Patty’s experiences to young people. In fact, Gramps agrees to visit more classes, and declares he is fully home.

In addition to sharing the message of “Welcome Home, Soldier” to audiences, the Natchez Little Theatre shared a substantial amount of revenue with the Home With Heroes Foundation, a nonprofit that helps veterans and their loved ones in the Miss-Lou. As president of the foundation, I’m humbled and very thankful. The NLT truly is a magnificent community partner. Also, Jane Bennett Skelton and Forrest “Al” Johnson generously made it possible for 45 young men and women (Scouts, JROTC Cadets and Adams County Junior Cadets) to attend free. Thank you.

Make it a plan to see one of the performances this year.

And, please pray for our veterans and our active duty service members.

G. Mark LaFrancis is author of “Welcome Home, Soldier” and president of the Home With Heroes Foundation (