It has become a much-anticipated annual Veterans Day tradition for the city of Horn Lake and Friday was no exception, even if the event was held in a new venue.
The fifth annual Winn and Annie Ruth Brown Veterans’ Appreciation Breakfast was held for the first time at the Landers Center in Southaven, however the ever-growing popularity of the breakfast was the reason for the move.
After having been held the past couple of years at First Choice Catering in Horn Lake when it became too crowded to be held at Horn Lake City Hall, the continuing growth of the event that gathers veterans and displays the city’s thanks for the efforts of all servicemen and women necessitated the move to a larger venue.
While not in his facility this year, the city also noted the generosity of First Choice owner John Woods for his involvement in the breakfast with a presentation to him as part of Friday’s program.
But the morning again featured food and conversation, probably with a few old war stories thrown in, followed by a program with patriotic music by the Horn Lake High School choir to honor each branch of the armed services and a video detailing the impact the late Winn and Annie Ruth Brown, for whom the event is named, had on the city of Horn Lake.
Winn Brown was Horn Lake’s first mayor and started the city’s fire department.
Friday’s featured speaker was Olin Pickens, a World War II veteran who survived capture in North Africa in 1943 and was transported into Europe, where he served in a prison camp until his release in 1945.
“They called it a work camp, but it really was a slave camp,” Pickens told the 250 veterans and others assembled. “I was cold and scared. A German soldier told me, ‘I don’t hate you, but if I don’t fight, they will cut my head off and cut my family’s heads off and kill us all.’ I knew right then I had lost my freedom.”
Pickens detailed his imprisonment, from being captured on what was described to him as a “suicide mission,” his march through North Africa and then being placed on a plane for transport to Sicily and Italy, a boxcar train trip to Rome and eventually to the POW camp.
Pickens noted that his capture partly came about for a cheap price paid to an Arabian man who found him.
“The Arab pulled out about 200 francs, which at the time was equivalent to about a dollar,” Pickens said. “I’ve been mad a lot of times in my life, but that was the maddest I had ever been. I had been sold into slavery for about a dollar.”
Mayor Allen Latimer pointed to the importance of honoring veterans for what they did and continue to do in reminding us of the steep price of freedom.
“Unfortunately, in this period of time in American history, we have people who want to erase our history,” Latimer said. “From the Confederate monuments to Christopher Columbus and even a plaque honoring George Washington. You veterans are our markers. People may try to take away our history, but they can’t take away you. You remind us of what this country should be and is where our values should be.”
Latimer thanked the veterans for their presence in our lives.
“The day means more than just saying, ‘thank you, and how much we appreciate your sacrifice and service,’” the mayor said. “You are our guiding light to maintain our freedom. You remind us what the country is and can be, but you also remind us as individuals who we are and what we can be. Veterans, Horn Lake thanks you!”
Friday’s breakfast is typically held closer to Veterans Day, but organizers said it was held a week earlier this year to accommodate the Landers Center schedule and not infringe on the annual Southaven Veterans Day luncheon scheduled for next week.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.