Fallen soldier returned to Gulfport for final farewell

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Staff Sergeant Johnny Polk is home. The 39-year-old war hero's flag draped casket arrived in Gulfport Thursday morning.

Other than a few honor guard commands, and the noise from a chartered flight from Dover, Delaware, the airport was eerily silent.  That gave SSgt. Johnny Polk's son a chance to put this day, and his father's life, in perspective.  Before the plane carrying the casket landed, Xavier Jones talked about his father's final mission in Iraq, and the emotional toll his death has taken on everyone.

"He was a very heartwarming person," said Xavier Jones.  "We loved him.  He took real good care of us."

The fallen soldier's angel flight landed in Gulfport at 10:30 Thursday morning. There to greet his plane, and his casket were family and friends, soldiers and veterans, comrades and city leaders.

"Your heart really goes out to the family," Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel said.  "Johnny's gone.  They live on with this.  It's tough for them."

SSgt. Polk died July 25 from wounds he suffered two days earlier, when a grenade detonated in Kirkuk, Iraq.  His 18-year-old son remembers thinking he was suddenly the man of the family.

"Pretty much I'm trying to hold my mom up," Jones said.  "You know we keep him in our hearts everyday.  It's not that we lost him.  It's that we'll see him later in heaven."

Polk's return to Mississippi was extremely emotional, especially for his wife.  When she stepped up to her husband's flag draped casket, her pain became quite evident.  As she cried, she bent over and hugged the silver casket with an American flag draped over it.

For most of this 30 minute ceremony, she was comforted by Gulfport's mayor.

"She had great comfort in knowing her husband had given his life for this country," the mayor said.

Polk's immediate family lives in Texas.  That's where Jones has so many memories of his father.

"Very athletic.  He was an outgoing guy.  He loved fishing," he said. " He disappeared for days at a time and go fishing.  Wake up and we wouldn't see him until he got back.  And then he'd come home with fish and put them in a tank, a regular fish tank."

The soldier's body was brought back to Mississippi because he said if something happened to him while at war, he wanted to be buried back near his hometown.  Polk was a Harrison Central football player in the 1980s.  And he fought fires with the North Gulfport Volunteer Fire Department.

"This is where his family is, and this is where we wanted him to be," said Jones.  "So, we're happy to be able to spend this time with them and help them help us heal."

The Gulfport City Council passed a resolution on Thursday afternoon, memorializing the life, and the service of SSgt. Johnny Roosevelt Polk.

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