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Speaking for the fallen

Staff photo by Mark Boehler

A crowd of about 150 turned out Sunday afternoon for the Memorial Day program at Corinth National Cemetery.

By Mark Boehler

editor@dailycorinthian.com

Chester Wayne Harrison's fellow U.S. Army comrades during the Vietnam War called him "Smooth."

It was Nov. 19, 1969, and his platoon was looking for the enemy along a tank trail.

"We would hunt bad guys by day and kill them," Harrison told the Memorial Day weekend crowd Sunday afternoon at Corinth National Cemetery. "Then we would set ambushes by night, bring them in and kill them."

The Army veteran then hesitated and the crowd dripping with sweat from the afternoon heat waited for more of the war story.

"We were good at what we did," said Harrison, an Alcorn County native who grew up in Holly Baptist Church. "And I am very proud of it."

The day would turn tragic, like most days for Americans during the Vietnam War, said the holiday guest speaker.

"Snoop," "Ears," "Missouri," "Fontz," and other members of his squad - they all had nicknames - would run into trouble on that fateful day.

"Fontz," tripped a booby trap. "On my God," were his words before the explosion, said his buddy.

Harrison painted a bloody picture of the turn of events. "Fontz" was literally blown in half and would not survive. Eight others were injured, many seriously.

"That day changed me as a soldier," said Harrison, now director of missions for the Prentiss County Baptist Association. "I could have died that day, but I didn't."

"Many of these veterans buried in this cemetery here did not come back," said the veteran, who attended Corinth High School. "They paid the price. We need to be thankful for them."

The speaker said he has been in many interviews over the years about his thoughts on Vietnam, especially since he became a minister.

"I always say I have only one regret," said the decorated soldier. "I was not given the honor and privilege to die for my country."

Harrison told the crowd of some 150 he was proud to be a veteran and an American.

"I am one of many veterans to be very, very proud to fight for this great country," he said. "We are still the greatest country on the face of this Earth."

The patriotic crowd erupted in applause. Harrison turned preacher during his closing remarks.

"God has a purpose for my life," he said. "God has a purpose for your life - a plan. Do you know what it is?"

The program is hosted by American Legion Post #6 every year the Sunday before Memorial Day. It includes laying of the wreaths, special singing, firing of guns and special recognitions.

The program ended about 10 minutes before a thunderstorm and heavy rainfall hit Corinth Sunday afternoon.

(Editor's Note: Corinth veteran Bill Huff's complete touching story of his uncle's remains returning 67 years after the soldier went missing during the Korean War will be shared in a future Daily Corinthian print edition. Huff also spoke during the Sunday program.)