Utica dedicates new memorial to all its veterans

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 13, 2000

Everette Collins takes a moment to remember his stay in Vietnam during Utica’s Veterans Day memorial service Saturday. Collins’ brother, Lt. Col. Thomas Collins III, spoke during the ceremony about his seven years as a prisoner of war while serving in the U.S. Air Force. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

UTICA On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the “war to end all wars” came to a close.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 82 years later, a bell rang out through the community of Utica. Nearly 200 people had gathered for the dedication of a memorial to the veterans from the small Mississippi town who have served in the wars of the 20th century.

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“Today is an honorable day, because it is Nov. 11,” said World War II veteran Capt. W.K. “Billy” Riggin, U.S. Marine Corps.

Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. The name was changed after the end of the second World War to remember all veterans.

Often confused with Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, Veterans Day is the day to remember America’s fighting men and women who served on the battlefield. Memorial Day is the holiday dedicated to those who have died in wars.

“This memorial honors not only those who performed heroic acts, but all those who served during the 20th century,” said Murray S. Griffin, a sergeant in the U.S. Army during WWII.

The dedication was part of Utica’s Downtown Heritage Festival Saturday. Festivities included music, a children’s parade and arts and crafts booths.

For about a year, volunteers of the Utica Heritage Society have been constructing the memorial that honors the 2,750 veterans from the community during the last century. Their names were enshrined in the centerpiece of the pavilion, a 5-foot granite spire.

To the right of the pavilion is a plaque dedicated to the 30 Utica residents killed in the wars of the past 100 years. To the left is a plaque that sits under the Utica Freedom Tree, dedicated to Lt. Col. Thomas E. Collins III, prisoners of war and those missing in action.

Now retired from the U.S. Air Force, Collins, a Utica native, was a prisoner of war for 7 1/2 years during the Vietnam War.

“The greatest tragedy of war is those who are missing in action,” he said Saturday. “For years to come, the people of Utica will have a place to go to remember those who have served.”

The base of the pavilion and a wall at the back are constructed of old bricks from the Utica Cemetery, parts of the old Woodmen of the World building, ruins from three antebellum homes and a few bricks from the old Utica School. Plaques for every American war from the Spanish American War to Operation Desert Storm line the wall with the number of Utica residents who participated in each.

The monument is near the entrance of the Utica Cemetery, established sometime prior to 1818. The U.S. and Christian flags, as well as one representing POWs and MIAs, fly above the wall.

“Freedom is not free,” said keynote speaker U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge R.H. Barksdale. “If there are things worth living for, there are things worth dying for.”

Barksdale was a captain in the U.S. Army serving in the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968. He said the reason soldiers do not run at the first sign of danger has little to do with courage or discipline.

“Its because they don’t want to let down their buddy, the guy standing next to them,” he said.