Without veterans, the Fourth of July would have been just another day in our lives. In fact, without veterans, we may have sung “God Save The Queen” or another country’s anthem Thursday instead of the “Star Spangled Banner.” 

Because of the service and sacrifice of the armed forces over 243 years of America’s existence, they provide an important reason for Americans to celebrate our independence.

The DeSoto County Museum held a gathering Wednesday night before the start of the Fourth of July holiday to honor what has been done by the county’s service men and women through the years.

“We’re here for the singular purpose of honoring our heroes,” said museum curator Robert Long before the group that filled the main entry area to the facility on Commerce Street in Hernando.

“We want to honor them before their voices are no longer with us. We want you to hear from them. These people sacrificed for us, and we are free because of them.”

As part of that statement, Long encouraged all to take a moment and sit down to hear the stories of DeSoto County veterans. He said the museum had plans to include recordings of those who served in the armed forces from the county, saying the contributions were as easy as recording their stories into a smartphone or voice recorder and then sending it on to him through an email to desotocountymuseum@gmail.com or through a text to his cell phone.

There already is a veterans’ exhibit at the county museum that dates through the beginnings of DeSoto County. Long wants the recordings to provide an interactive future addendum to the exhibit displays.

As part of the Wednesday program, two couples and one individual were especially noted for what they have done to remember the contributions of the military and naval service, and also county law enforcement. They were awarded museum Spirit Awards for what they have done.

Among those honored Wednesday evening were R.G. and Diane Moore. The couple were the driving force behind the establishment of the DeSoto County Veterans Park, which surrounds a pond in front of the county Visitors Center near the Landers Center in Southaven.

They also were involved in caring for a small rural cemetery in the county where as many as 90 veterans are buried.

“These two are to be found saluting veterans,” Long said of the Moores. “They do it because they love our veterans. All branches of the military are represented at the park. They worked tirelessly selling bricks with the names of the veterans that fought and died for our country.”

Another winner of the museum’s Spirit Award was DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco, who Long said was honored because of the support put forth to the Fallen Heroes Memorial for law enforcement and first responders that stands on the Courthouse Square in Hernando.

“They may not be in a military uniform,” Long noted. “But they are on the front lines of the war today, a war between right and wrong, against civility and incivility. Sheriff Rasco has served our county well in honoring our law enforcement officers.”

The other couple presented with the museum honor was Randy Martin and Carolyn Young, who Long said are very involved in the Veterans Parade held in Hernando each year.

Long said the museum plans to offer Spirit Awards each year.

The other part of the Wednesday program was to hear stories from DeSoto County veterans. John Caldwell, Olin Pickens and William Spencer all talked about their respective military experience.

Pickens, considered one of the county’s oldest living veterans at age 97, briefly related about his time in a German prison war camp after his capture by the Nazis on what he said would be a suicide mission.

Spencer told about his experiences in the Pacific Theater of World War II in Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

Caldwell began his military career enlisting in the Marine reserves in 1981. While working his way through college he entered the officer program and experienced combat as an infantry platoon commander in Desert Storm and again during two tours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

At the end of the program, Long reiterated the museum’s desire to get the stories of veterans from the county for its future.

“Displays are wonderful, but it’s about the people,” Long said. “It is their sacrifice, and we are honor bound to record them and remember.”

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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