Vandals almost removed two valuable bronze plaques at the war memorial on the front lawn of the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center.
When Richard Eckert found them last week — only a few days before the city’s veterans parade on Saturday — one plaque was hanging by a screw and the other had two screws missing.
“I just want the public to know so they can help us keep an eye out for this,” Eckert said.
He had gone to the memorial a few days before the parade to sweep off the bricks and make sure it looked good.
“It caught me by surprise,” he said. He doesn’t know if the vandals were interrupted or if the screws were just too hard to get out. But either way, the thieves were thwarted.
“What bothers me is that it could happen again,” he said.
“I want everyone looking out for them,” he said. “More surveillance so it won’t happen again. It’s more than stealing bronze here. I want it to stop.”
This is not just vandalism or theft, it’s desecration of a war memorial.
He said, “I consider this serious business.”
The city and American Legion Post 42 have transformed what had been a neglected monument to Ocean Springs’ only casualty in World War I, to a monument to war veterans as a whole.
The Legion sold 260 bricks honoring men and women who served, added two benches, the plaques and a light to shine on the American flag at night.
The benches and plaques together were $3,400. A spotlight for the flag at night, $1,400.
The city planted flowers and added a landscaped look to the memorial.
This isn’t the first time something has been stolen since the new effort at the memorial. About a year ago, someone stole the American flag the Legion Post 42 had purchased for it.
“That’s a big pole and that was a big flag,” he said. “It was expensive.”
It’s a crime to vandalize a war memorial, he said. He said the Pershing Square monument transformation now includes bricks honoring a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, veterans who earned a Purple Heart and many other medals, he said.
“If it happens again, I’ll want to prosecute,” he said. “And I’ll have the American Legion behind me as well.”
The post now has a home just behind the Mary C. and the Taconi gym.
“I just want the vandals and the public to know, we’ll be looking,” he said.