The day the Purple Heart Memorial was dedicated, civilians and military stood on the streets of Biloxi, waving American flags as Mayor A.J. Holloway, U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., ROTC and national leaders of the Military Order of the Purple Heart marched or rode by on floats.
Beads flew in the air, as they do for any Mississippi Coast parade, but this one had a distinct military veteran flavor.
Festivities culminated at the Billie Guice Veterans Memorial Park between the small-craft harbor and Beach Boulevard, where many saw for the first time the seven granite stones of the memorial to men and women injured in combat.
On the seven tall stones, which vary from six to eight feet, are laser-etched photographs of Purple Heart recipients, with room for additions as more Mississippi families learn about the $100,000 memorial. That day, for the first time, the public saw the etched words, "The price of freedom."
That was on Jan. 23, 2005.
Seven months later, Katrina left the memorial in shambles, but not broken. The main stone fell face-first on a piece of concrete, and defacing will eventually mean a trip to the manufacturer for repairs.
But for now, all seven stones are standing tall again, thanks to the efforts of the Navy Seabees and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and the grounds look spiffy, thanks to the efforts of the Great American Cleanup last week.
The memorial is a project of the Harold E. Jones Memorial Chapter 676, a local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and it was bankrolled by George Higginbotham, a retired businessman who used to own a Back Bay seafood processing plant and is himself a Purple Heart recipient.
"The future is bright for the memorial, and we anticipate getting more photographs on the stone," said Ernest Brant of Biloxi, past commander of the state's Purple Heart organization.
That safely established, Brant explains the chapter's priority is looking for the owner of a Purple Heart medal found near 176 East Beach Blvd. in Gulfport.
"Wouldn't it be great if we found the owner and could have his photograph on the monument?" Brant asked.
- KAT BERGERON