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Veterans Day should be every day

This being Friday, I’m a bit behind on a column for Veterans Day, but I couldn’t let the holiday pass without writing about it and my experiences talking with veterans over the years.

When you work on small newspapers, you cover a variety of subjects, and through the years I’ve talked to a lot of veterans and servicemen and women. I think I can safely say I’ve interviewed veterans from every major U.S. war except World War I.

It’s been said everyone has a story to tell, and I’ve always found that veterans are a marvelous source of history and their stories have always been interesting and many times riveting.

My favorite story involved an interview with seven Bataan Death March survivors. I was working for The Mississippi Press in Pascagoula and the Navy was commissioning the amphibious warship USS Bataan at Ingalls Shipbuilding. These men were gracious enough to come to the paper, sit down and talk with me about their experience as prisoners at the hands of the Japanese.

One of the six managed to escape his captors and joined Filipino guerrillas to fight the Japanese. One man was in a camp in Hiroshima, Japan, and others were scattered in other camps throughout Japan.

One of the survivors I remember quite well was Donovan Gauthier of Ocean Springs, not for his account of his experiences as a POW, but for a sign he installed on the site where his home was demolished by Hurricane Katrina — “I came back from Bataan and I’ll come back from Katrina.”

There were the Navy officers who were flight instructors at Naval Air Station Meridian. They flew combat missions over Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and recounted their experiences in the first few weeks of the Gulf War. One thing I found interesting during an interview with one officer was his comment that media accounts of the attack were a good source of intelligence about their missions.

And there were other stories from interviews with men who were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941; a B-25 crew that flew missions in the Pacific during World War II; a Korean War veteran who with a buddy, was captured by North Koreans and later escaped when the North Koreans ran off and left them.

The Battle of the Bulge vet who discussed his work in an ordnance unit, or the submarine veterans I met and interviewed in Pascagoula who recalled their experiences in the Silent Service during World War II and the Cold War.

As the son and nephew of veterans, I have always had respect for veterans, and that respect only grew when I got to meet and know active military while covering Naval Air Station Meridian and Naval Station Pascagoula. You have to admire someone who is so dedicated to duty and service that they are willing to give their life for their buddies and their country.

And while Veterans Day has come and gone, we need to remember our veterans, living and dead, every day. When you see a vet, give them a smile, a wave and say “thanks.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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