Memorial Day: A time to remember

Published 10:38 pm Saturday, May 25, 2024

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The beginning of summer arrives each year with our celebration of Memorial Day. From pool parties to family gatherings, Americans from every corner of the country find their own ways to celebrate the beginning of summer fun. And in the south, grills in every backyard get fired up, the aroma of ribs, chicken, and time-honored family recipes wafting through the summer air, along with the fragrance of honeysuckle and whatever else happens to be blooming. And with graduations being held, parties signaling the end of the school year, and the beginning of summer sports events, it truly is a great time of the year.

But let us not forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy these blessings of freedom. Memorial Day at its core is more than just a day for parties and parades – it is a time to remember.

Across our country, there are very few still alive who served in World War II, a time when freedom for the entire planet was at stake. In Natchez, only one WWII veteran remains, John “Jack” Kerwin, affectionately known as “Capt. Jack.” Since last year, we have lost three: John Druetta, Levy Murray, and Julius Carter. May these patriots rest in peace for their great service to our country.

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My own father, Robert “Doby” Gibson, was part of this “greatest generation”, serving valiantly in the 279th US Combat Engineers, helping forge a path for Patton’s army to make its way from Normandy to Berlin. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, and he was in Berlin when Germany fell in May of 1945. He remained for several months as part of the army of occupation, and when his feet finally again touched American soil, landing in New York harbor that Fall, he knelt and kissed the ground.

There are still many in our city who served our country in other wars and conflicts: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places. Willing to leave their families and possibly give their lives to protect the time- honored principles of our nation’s founders, these men and women are to be held in highest regard and esteem, and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice should be rightfully memorialized during the weekend’s festivities.

I cannot write of Memorial Day, without remembering those who died in this country fighting for independence during the Revolutionary War, their blood sanctifying battlefields across territory that was once American colonies. Some of those same battlefields were again sanctified during the American Civil War, a conflict in which over 620,000 died, the deadliest war in our nation’s history.

Many of those who died were soldiers in our country’s U.S. Colored Troops. First recruited during the Civil War, approximately 175 regiments comprising nearly 200,000 men served our country in both the Army and Navy. Among these was a native of Natchez, Wilson Brown. Born as an enslaved person at Botany Bay Plantation in Natchez, Brown enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March of 1863. During the Battle of Mobile Bay, he operated the shell whip on the U.S.S. Hartford. He was injured when Confederate cannon fire struck the ship. Refusing immediate medical attention, he continued his duties making sure that a continued supply of gunpowder reached Union cannons. For his bravery, he received the Medal of Honor, and he is buried in the Natchez National Cemetery. In total, over 8,000 served in the US Colored Troops out of the Natchez District, and it is estimated that up to 90% of African Americans living in our city today are direct descendants of these courageous men.

While we as Americans are relishing our freedoms this Memorial Day weekend, let us take time to remember. Freedom is not free. It has come at a price. And even now, there are currently 165,000 active-duty members of the United States military serving in over 150 countries. They may be on an air base in Western Europe, others on a Navy vessel in Southeast Asia, and some on a base in the middle of the desert in the Middle East. For many, it has been months since they enjoyed a night out with their spouse or played catch in the yard with their children, worshiped with their congregation at their church, or enjoyed a backyard barbeque with their friends. Let us take time to remember them. Let us take time to remember all who served – and all who “gave the last ounce of devotion.” For Natchez – America – Deserves More.

Dan M. Gibson is mayor of Natchez.