By Donald Gates
This being Memorial Day weekend I became a little nostalgic about my two years of service in the Army. All my service time was state side, so I never saw combat (although some of my experience as an MP came close). My thoughts turned to some friends who did see combat and I immediately thought of James Puckett, a high school friend. We attended Puckett High, a small rural school in Puckett Mississippi (I never knew of the ancestral relationship between his name and the town’s, if any). James and I often talked about our future. He was a year older (18) and a grade ahead of me.
The time was 1950 and the Korean War was at its height. One day he told me that he was dropping out of school and joining the Marines. I suggested he wait until he graduated and then join since a high school education might influence the possibility of advancement. But no, he was determined to go do his “part”. He told me he would see me when he came home on furlough after competing basic training.
About eight weeks later he did come home and rode his bike to my house dressed in his fatigues. We had a great discussion about his experiences, and I was somewhat envious. On leaving he said he couldn’t wait for Friday night when all the kids would gather at the movie house. Let me tell you a little about small rural towns in the 50s. Puckett had a population of 300 (The sign at the entrance to town said “Welcome to Puckett. Population 300 good friendly folks and a few old soreheads”). It had a movie house (to call it a theater would be a little grandiose). We thought it was great because before that, movies were shown in a tent. Movies were shown on Friday and Saturday nights (25 cent fee) and most school kids from town and surrounding area showed up well before movie time for socialization. In fact, many didn’t have the entrance fee, so it was the socialization that was the draw.
Well James walked up dressed in his dress Marine uniform and all the kids gathered round to hear him tell of his Basic Training experiences. He was so proud to be a Marine! I shall never forget the look of pride on his face that night and I believe the attention he received that night from all those young admirers helped him deal with what was to come.
James would have graduated with the 1951 Class of Puckett High School. He was killed in combat on November 29, 1950 in Korea.
Today there are many young men and women stationed all over the world who are dedicated to keeping us safe and preserving our way of life. On this Memorial Day may we all remember and honor those who are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Do you often think about how blessed we are to live in this country where we are free to be all that we can be? Well you should!