GALLERY: Veteran and patriot honored during Veterans Day celebration

Published 2:26 pm Sunday, November 12, 2023

NATCHEZ — Two awards were given to local heroes during a special Veterans Day celebration at the Natchez City Council Chambers Thursday morning.

One was for Lillie DeShields with the Patriot of the Year award, recognizing her faithful support of veterans throughout the Miss-Lou.

The Veteran of the Year award was presented to retired US Air Force Col. Herman Curry.

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The awards were presented by Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson and Larry Smith on behalf of Home With Heroes Foundation and the Natchez Mayor’s Veterans Task Force.

Also on Thursday, a walking parade was held through Downtown Natchez beginning at Memorial Park along Main Street.

Gibson said everyone should feel the conviction and resolve now more than ever to honor our military.

“It’s extremely poignant now to make mention of how fragile freedom is,” he said, recalling times when his late father discussed experiencing the fall of Berlin, watching comrades fall and countless Jewish victims of the Holocaust fall.

Today, Israeli and Ukrainian people are at war and their freedoms are at stake where they, just a few months to a year ago, lived just as Americans do, “never imagining their freedoms could be taken away,” Gibson said.

“I will tell you today, freedom is fragile and anyone who thinks that we can just be asleep at the wheel and that freedom is guaranteed for thousands of years to come need only to ask a veteran like my dad, who personally witnessed the atrocities of war,” he said.

“This is a day where we as Americans should stand stronger than ever in support of Ukraine, in support of Israel and in support of freedom all across the world and especially in support of our men and women in uniform … because there could easily come a day when our freedom could be taken away. … This is not normally the message I would share on a Veterans Day occasion. But it is a message I think people need to hear and a message that should convict all of us to have a higher resolve for honoring our military.”

DeShields has two passions obvious to anyone who knows her, furry critters and veterans, Smith said.

“The daughter of a Pacific WWII veteran, Lillie is a familiar face at many events honoring veterans. During her long career at International Paper, she volunteered to help with company activities for veterans,” Smith said. “Additionally, she has supported activities such as Wreaths Across America and Memorial Day ceremonies. During Scouts of America flag retirement ceremonies, she is among those who arrive early, offering to help and proudly retiring worn flags. She visits veterans, donates to veterans’ causes and recently spent many hours helping prepare the Miss-Lou Military Museum Veterans Welcome and Information Center, which opens this Sunday. Lillie does her volunteering without seeking the limelight and with a cheerful disposition.”

While accepting the award, DeShields reiterated her passion.

“I have been a part of a veteran family for as long as I can remember. In fact, while I was growing up I wanted to be a helicopter pilot but I couldn’t do that. So I support in the background trying to make sure that the people I love and care about know that I love and care about them.”

Curry is also familiar to the youth of the community as the Commander of the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Core program at Natchez High School. He is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran having spent 30 years in service to the country.

When he was discharged, he answered the call for a Junior ROTC leader.

“When he speaks, cadets listen,” Smith said.

Curry was full of gratitude for Home With Heroes Founder Mark LaFrancis and the Mayor’s Task Force for giving him the honor and for his wife Audrey and cadets for their support.

“When I was notified about this (award), I was shocked and honored,” Curry said. “Those who know me know that red, white and blue run through my veins. Each time I put on this uniform, I pause to reflect. It’s not just a uniform but a symbol of freedom, opportunity and love.”

Curry also used the occasion to remind people to honor other veterans.

“The cost of freedom is expensive. The question is, are you paying your cashier,” he said.