‘The heart is out for there for veterans.’ Hernando Veterans Day tradition hosts biggest turnout yet
HERNANDO, Miss. (WMC) - Hundreds of veterans and their families, along with volunteers, packed the building for their annual Veterans Day luncheon.
The luncheon was on Nov. 11 inside the National Guard Armory in Hernando, and there was not an empty seat in the main hall.
Beforehand was the Veteran’s Day parade through Hernando Square, the biggest one yet according to organizers.
“The heart is out there for veterans,” said Dale Bellflower, one of the volunteers for the event.
The parade/luncheon started in 2017, taking a brief break during COVID-19.
It’s funded entirely by donations, much to the appreciation of area veterans.
“It’s great seeing the turnout,” said Gerald Young, one of the volunteers. “We had a beautiful day, and you just get little comments from people about what a great time they had.”
“It’s citizens who really love their veterans,” said Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson. “We’re so grateful that they do this for us.”
Johnson, a Navy veteran himself, was one of the speakers at the luncheon.
His main message honed in on mental health among veterans, saying it’s OK to express emotion and seek help.
The Hernando Mayor said in 2020, 55 veterans committed suicide in Mississippi.
“We are losing over 20 veterans a day to suicide in the United States,” said Johnson. “I think the message for trying to get out today is once you get back from serving your country, you don’t have to be ‘tough’ alone. Seek mental help.”
For the veterans who attended, the event speaks to the priorities of the community.
“I moved from Ohio to Mississippi many, many years ago,” said Ed Stutler, a veteran who now lives in Olive Branch. “How (Mississippians) treat their veterans, how they treat this country, how they respect the flag, it just amazes me. I always tell everybody it’s a different world down here.”
“You walk around with a military shirt on or something, and they’ll say ‘thank you for your service,’” said Tate County resident and veteran Anick Wallace. “I think that is just awe-inspiring.”
“We get to celebrate those that I lost, my friends that I lost in Vietnam,” Tom Drumm, another Olive Branch vet, said. “It means a whole lot that they gave their freedom so we can do what we do today.”
For organizers like Bellflower, who served in the Army for 34 years, the support from the community: businesses, organizations, and everyday citizens gets him emotional.
“It was all about service,” Bellflower said, choking up. “It’s about giving back to this nation that has given so much to us and the freedoms that we have.”
As the years go on, volunteers and certainly veterans hope this tradition grows into the spectacle that gives veterans a space to get the respect and honor they deserve.
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