U.S. Army veteran Jeff Donald spent years in Europe, where every year, citizens held ceremonies and placed flowers on the graves at American cemeteries honoring those who died in the world wars.
So when he moved to Starkville in 2002, he wanted to start something similar in town.
“I came here and nothing was being done,” recalled Donald, who co-chairs the Greater Starkville Development Partnership’s Military Affairs Committee along with fellow veteran Robert Green. “We had just fought the Gulf War and there were a number of people who didn’t come back. I had a neighbor who hadn’t come back from Vietnam. Anyway, there were a lot of people and I said, ‘We should remember these guys.’”
On Monday, the Partnership, along with local branches of veterans groups such as the American Legion, will hold a Memorial Day ceremony commemorating all those from Oktibbeha County who died in combat at 11 a.m. outside the Oktibbeha County Courthouse.
The annual event, which Donald helped start in 2003, will include reading the names of area service members who died in both world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Global War on Terrorism.
Donald is not alone. Signs of the holiday have appeared throughout the Golden Triangle, with members of First Baptist Church in Columbus covering the church lawns in hundreds of American flags and local Boy Scouts troops placing flags on graves at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus and cemeteries in Starkville. Some of those Scouts will present the flag at Starkville’s ceremony Monday, Donald said.
“We decided we wanted to have the community and the youth learn more about Memorial Day, so they present the flags,” he said.
The ceremony will also include retired Air Force veteran and current executive director of Golden Triangle Regional Airport Mike Hainsey as guest speaker, as well as words from Mayor Lynn Spruill and president of the Oktibbeha County supervisors, Joe Williams.
In West Point, city administrator Randy Jones has planned his annual Memorial Day Program at the Civic Center on Sixth Street at noon.
Like Donald, Jones is a veteran of the Army and has been organizing the program for 15 years, having taken over from a local women’s organization.
The program includes a video listing the names of those Jones tracked down. When he started, he said, there were 600 names on the list. Now there are nearly 1,800.
“This year we had 63 county veterans … that passed away since May of last year, and their names are being added to the program,” Jones said. “…Folks know that we don’t want to forget these people.”
Both events are free and open to the public.