WATER VALLEY – James A. Kelso was one of many young men from Yalobusha County who were killed during World War II. But, it was his story that fellow veteran and classmate, Dr. Rayford Edgar chose to tell during the Memorial Day observance Monday at the veterans’ monument in Railroad Park.
Edgar and Kelso were members of the Water Valley High School Class of 1942. There were 30 men and 10 women in the class and recruiters from the military visited the school trying to get the young men, mostly 17 and 18-year-olds, to commit to a branch of the service.
But Kelso didn’t want to wait. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and his young friends had a get-together for him before he left. Edgar said that Kelso told his friends, “I won’t be back.”
“We told him, ‘Oh, Kelso, you’ll be back. Don’t worry about that,’” Edgar said.
“I’m telling you right now, I won’t be back,” Kelso repeated to his friends.
“And, he didn’t come back,” said Edgar. “He was killed at the battle of Guam.”
Dr. Edgar, featured speaker at the Memorial Day observance, was introduced by Jack Grass of Post 4100 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Grass noted that Edgar served in World War II in the U. S. Navy from 1942 until 1946.
“He saw action in the South Pacific and participated in 12 island campaigns,” Grass said. “Last October, Dr. Edgar was part of the group who stormed the capitol in Washington, D. C.”
Grass explained that a group of veterans attempting to visit the World War II monument in Washington were barred by barricades during the government shutdown. “And these veterans – Dr. Edgar included – removed them physically and entered.”
The explanation drew loud applause form the approximately 100 people attending the observance.
Earlier, long-time VFW Post 4100 member, former local and state commander, James Gordon, welcomed the crowd and introduced Water Valley’s first lady, Betty Hart, who sang the National Anthem.
Jean Peacock, incoming President of the Post 4100 Ladies Auxiliary, and Fran Taylor, current president, presented the table setting ceremony that honors the men and women who didn’t return.
Mayor Larry Hart spoke on behalf of the city government and welcomed those in attendance. He asked for members of the crowd to call out the names of those who should be remembered.
Among the names shouted by the spectators were Jesse Weeks, Robert Norwood, Ronnie Hardy, H. F. Wright, Alfred Reed, A. B. Hill Jr., John Russell Anthony, J.D. Watson, David Martin, Marvin Groves and many others.
“This is a day of remembrance,” Hart emphasized, “and as we grow older we depend on our memories. We have a wonderful host of people who served in our military over the ages. Not just those who served on the battlefield, but those who served in support positions.”
Representative Tommy Reynolds followed Mayor Hart and said that it has been an honor to grow up under the tutelage of the “greatest generation.” He added that we also have great generations who are defending this country right now.
He noted that most of the people who have died in war were under the age of 25 when they made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“We need to think of those people like Mr. Kelso who are the reason that we are free today,” Reynolds said
He then quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said, “We need to care for him who shall have bourn the wounds of battle, his widow and his orphans.”
“We as Americans owe a sacred duty to those who have fought for this county. We owe a duty to them to fight to keep our country free and to keep our country proud,” Reynolds said.
The ceremony concluded with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and then a closing prayer by Grass.