Working in the steel business, Gulf States Manufacturers President Danny Coggins knows it”s tough to make grown men cry.
One Starkville Christian School student, however, can do it without even trying.
Once a week or so, 5-year-old Gracieann Williams places flowers on a memorial for fallen U.S. soldiers in front of the Gulf States steel plant at Hospital and Pollard roads. Williams then kneels down, says a prayer and asks God to watch over the families of the soldiers who have died in battle.
“It”s enough to bring tears to your eyes,” Coggins said Wednesday after Williams placed a bouquet of daisies and roses at the memorial.
Williams first noticed an American flag hanging outside of Gulf States last August on her way to school. She was learning the Pledge of Allegiance at the time, so the flag drew her attention.
When Gulf States erected a memorial for dead and missing soldiers around the flag in October, Williams” curiosity piqued even more. That”s when Williams” mother, Cynthia Williams, and grandmother, Ann Jackson, told her what the memorial meant, and Gracieann”s sense of patriotism kicked in.
Gracieann asked if she could bring flowers and place them by the gold star in the memorial”s garden. The gold star represents Gold Star Mothers, an organization of mothers who have lost sons or daughters in battle.
Shortly after Gracieann began placing flowers on the memorial, Gulf States employees and Gold Star Mothers began to take notice. Then, one day in November, Coggins and others were having lunch at a picnic table near the memorial and met Gracieann for the first time.
“Here comes this car and little Gracieann comes out,” Coggins recalled this week. “She kneels down, puts her hands together and prays. I”m telling you, it was amazing.”
Coggins was so touched, he wrote a letter of thanks to Gracieann”s teacher at Starkville Christian School, Karen Carr, and sent a copy to a friend in West Point.
“The future of our country will soon be in the hands of people like Gracieann and older people like me are happy that people like her are there carrying on our patriotic thoughts,” Coggins wrote. “Ms. Carr, we especially want to thank you and your school for the leadership you display. In a world of political correctness, it is nice to see school leaders grounded in the important thoughts of our world.”
Within 12 hours, Coggins” letter about Gracieann had circulated to soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, he says. Carr heard about Coggins” letter before she even received it in the mail. Several U.S. soldiers, having read Coggins” letter, e-mailed Carr to give her thanks.
Shortly thereafter, Gulf States employees took up a collection and raised $91 for Gracieann”s flower fund, but she didn”t want the money. Instead, Cynthia Williams added $9 of her own money and Gracieann donated the $100 to Gold Star Mothers.
The next “big event” at the memorial took place on Veteran”s Day, Coggins said. Gulf States invited Carr”s class to the memorial, and the students led Gulf States employees in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Coggins still gets emotional when talking about the event.
“My welders, these tough guys out in the plant, they did the Pledge with those kids and you could see them wiping their eyes,” Coggins said. “It was one of the most compelling things I”ve ever seen.”
Cynthia Williams said she encouraged her daughter to support U.S. troops and was glad to see her classmates do the same.
“I feel it”s very important that children, especially their age, know about our armed forces and know there are people who lose their lives just so we can live here and be safe,” Williams said. “They need to know that it comes at a cost of someone”s life, and you can explain that to them in such a way that they understand. She understands that that”s their choice and we”re thankful for it.”