Harrison County

Veterans, families at Memorial Day ceremony honor those who served and died

BILOXI -- Natalie Rickert brought her three daughters to the Memorial Day service at the Biloxi National Cemetery on Monday morning.

Before they hit the beach, grilled out or went for haircuts, she wanted to make sure they knew what the holiday was all about.

Her husband Ryan is stationed at Keesler Air Force Base as a Hurricane Hunter. The girls -- Alethea, 5, London, 4, and Haven, 2 -- seemed to grasp the basics as they sat under the oaks and wiggled through the ceremony that included a reminder by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., that "we all need to keep the faith" with those men and women to stepped forward to serve their country.

"We're going to laugh. We're going to over-consume and take the day off," Wicker told the crowd of veterans and families of those who served. "But at some point, we'll pause."

National Cemetery Director Graham Wright read a request from President Barack Obama, asking the entire country to pause and, united, pray for permanent peace.

The ceremony was surrounded on three sides by the rows and rows of plain white grave markers, each adorned with an American flag for the occasion.

LaTanya Johnson and Cynthia Esculano watched the ceremony from a grave site 30 rows away.

Esculano had just lost her husband, Ret. Air Force Maj. Teofilo Esculano Jr., who served in Korea and Vietnam in different branches of the military.

Johnson had come to visit the grave of her husband, Curtis Johnson, but saw Esculano at the new grave and joined her.

"I knew these were the fresher graves," Johnson said. "I saw her and wanted to comfort her and tell her I understood. I know what it's like out here."

They sat in the full sun watching the ceremony preparations that included a posting of colors by Keesler's 81st Training Wing, the audience singing the national anthem, the presentation of all 50 state flags, a gun salute, taps and a wreath-laying.

Before the ceremony began, standing in the back, Army veteran George Glazier, VFW 2434, expressed concern with friends that the flag wasn't at half staff. They were assured it would be lowered as part of the ceremony.

Glazier said he comes to the service every year. He said he served in Iraq.

"I have several of my buddies buried out here," Glazier said. "One who died in combat.

"I also have my father and an uncle out here."

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