New flag flies on bridge to honor Guardsman

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Vicksburg Bridge Commission employees, John Hilderbrand and John Dill raise an American flag on the U.S. 80 Mississippi River Bridge in honor of Staff Sgt. Peter Eargle.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/05/02]A new Old Glory now flying over the U.S. 80 Mississippi River Bridge was raised Tuesday in honor of a local National Guardsman who returned home from Bosnia sooner than expected.

The massive 20-foot-by-30-foot flag had been dedicated last year to Staff Sgt. Peter Eargle, who left for Bosnia in August. Eargle was a member of the peacekeeping forces that moved into the Balkans in 1995.

“I think it’s a huge honor,” said Eargle, who first learned of the flag though e-mails while on deployment. “There really aren’t words to describe what it means to me it’s not often you get someone to dedicate something like this to you.”

The flag, purchased by Vicksburg’s Civitan Club for $550, had, in December, been presented by club members and Eargle’s mother, Alberta, to Blanche Millsaps, a retiree who for years has initiated efforts to keep a flag flying over the bridge.

“We were going to fly it while (Peter) was in Bosnia,” said Millsaps, “but (the previous flag) they took down Monday had lasted longer than any flag they had ever put up.”

The last flag had flown since Sept. 21, 10 days after the terrorist attacks on the nation.

“There was no use in taking it down since it was OK,” Millsaps said. “In the meantime, Peter came home.”

When Eargle returned home from his duty in April, it was decided that he be present for the raising of the flag. The initial plan was to have him raise it himself, but due to liability issues, neither Eargle nor onlookers were allowed onto the bridge. The flag was raised by bridge superintendent Billy Wilson.

Officially presenting Eargle with the flag was Bill Ray, Civitan member and past president.

“I don’t think it should be for one person at all,” Eargle told the group of club members, family, friends and fellow soldiers who gathered for Tuesday’s ceremony near the Mississippi Welcome Center.

He took the opportunity to rededicate the flag primarily to future veterans.

“I want to try to let people realize how difficult of a time it is for a younger person to join the military and what it takes to volunteer their services,” Eargle said. “They’re going to need our support and guidance.”

Eargle also dedicated the new flag to Task Force Rifles, the unit in which he traveled to Bosnia that performed multiple missions including observing local police forces and government during their stay in the country. Eargle is now assigned to the 185th Aviation Group in Jackson.

The Civitans decided to honor Eargle after hearing his story from his mother, a club member since 1990 whose late husband, William Eargle, joined the Civitans in Virginia in 1954.

“I think it’s a great honor,” Alberta Eargle said. “He’s well-deserving of it. I’m proud of him.”

Millsaps said the flags that fly over the bridge send an important message.

“What better impression would you want for our state than to be welcomed with that flag?” she asked.

“The least we can do is to fly this flag every chance, every place we can.”

The flags have been flying since the first one was raised in 1994, and last an average of four months, Millsaps said.