The Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday recognized leaders and achievers of South Mississippi’s military community at the 39th annual Salute to the Military.
A couple hundred citizens, military members and veterans of all branches of the military came to the Mississippi Coast Convention Center dressed in their finest.
“It’s good for all branches of service to get together and celebrate the troops who are currently serving now and the service members from the past,” said Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Parks, an 18-year Marine.
“It’s unusual that we get to be together in one night, especially this close to Veterans Day,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kitara Byerly, who joined the Navy two years ago.
During the main presentation, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Adrian Pinerio was announced the winner of the coveted Thomas V. Fredian Community Leadership Award. Pinerio won over five other nominees: Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Champagne, Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Doyle, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jacqueline Gonzalez, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class First Class Raphael Porter and Navy Chief Petty Officer Daniel Zimmerli.
Keynote speaker Maj. Gen. David Bellon, commander of Marine Forces South, explained to the audience how the armed forces develop young men and women.
“We get what society gives us,” he said. “They come with all the human frailties that their communities generate, their biases, their prejudices, their emotional frailties. What we have to do is to collect them in and imbue in them a call to service and willingness to think of something else before themselves.”
He said each branch has its own “secret sauce,” but in basic training, members can start to feel this transition that they stop thinking about themselves and start looking at each other and start to believe “we’re going to do this,” not “I’m going to do this.”
The military not only makes soldiers, it makes “better citizens,” Bellon said.
He said members of the military should always set an example to others, especially when it comes to showing respect to those you disagree with.
Those interviewed by the Sun Herald remained steadfast in their loyalty and commitment to commanding officers when asked about their commander in chief, President Donald Trump.
“If I get orders to serve my country and go do what the president of the United States wants us to go do, that’s my job,” Parks said. “We’re always going to be the servants for the public and we’ll always strive to do the best we can to do what’s right for the military and public.”
Retired U.S. Navy Commander Robert Hardy said the politics have not deterred young people from joining.
“If you study history, you’ll see what George Washington had to put up with, with the early Continental Congress not putting up enough food and supplies out to their people and them starving and freezing to death in Valley Forge,” Hardy said. “It hasn’t changed; it’s just the flavor of the day. Instead of being 1775, it’s 2017. The more it changes the more it stays the same.”
“If you go all the way back to the Revolutionary War, about 1 percent of the population served in the military and it has stayed consistent to today,” Hardy said. “I like to see these young men and women all cleaned up and dressed ready to do what they have to do for the nation, ready to take the torch from the old guys and take it forward.”
Earlier in the evening, a special moment occurred with the introduction of 92-year old Patrick Hackett, a World War II veteran, and Grayson Best, a former Marine and three-time Purple Heart recipient. Both men sat at the table of U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, who was scheduled to be present at the dinner but did not attend, and sent a greeting via video.
Video tributes celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Navy Seabee base and the 100th anniversary of Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg. Another video remembered the 102 Mississippi soldiers who have died in combat since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.