GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - This weekend, friends celebrated the life, and the heroism of Johnny Polk. They remembered his days on the gridiron at Harrison Central. And they shared tales about his work with the North Gulfport Volunteer Fire Department.
Staff Sergeant Polk died last month from wounds he suffered on the battlefield in Iraq.
Before his funeral, the Gulfport City Council paid tribute to the 39-year-old soldier.
When the plane carrying SSgt. Johnny Polk taxied up to the Air National Guard Base, they were there. All seven Gulfport City Council members, standing shoulder to shoulder, paying their respects to a fallen Army soldier "who represents the best of what any Gulfport citizen could ever hope to be. He's a true hero," said Councilman Rusty Walker.
The ward four's thoughts were echoed by Gulfport Chief Administrative Officer John Kelly.
"You said it very well when you said this young man represents the very best that his country has to offer. And we're proud of him," he said.
Gulfport leaders expressed that pride in the minutes of their August 13th meeting.
When Councilwoman Ella Holmes Hines had the floor, she said, "Mr. President, I would like to offer a resolution by the Gulfport City Council memorializing the life and the service of Sergeant First Class Johnny Roosevelt Polk, United States Army."
She asked Councilwoman Libby Milner Roland to read the resolution into the record.
"Born in Gulfport, Mississippi on December 29, 1969," she read, as she began to list off Polk's extraordinary accomplishments.
For 39 years, Polk donated his time to his community, as a football player, a fireman, and a loving father.
His 18-year-old son Xavier Jones spoke on behalf of his family. He called is father "very athletic. He was an outgoing guy. He loved fishing. 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."
Polk joined the Army in 1992, and dedicated the next 17 years of his life to the military.
"It says so much about the man. The man that went on the line and provided a blanket of freedom that we all sleep under every night," Councilman Walker said.
On his third tour in Iraq, SSgt. Polk made the ultimate sacrifice, losing his life after a grenade attack in Kirkuk.
"It was hard at first," Jones remembered. "But my job was to help my mom hold up. So that's what I did. And for him to come home, that's what he wanted. So I'm happy to be able to do that for him."
On Thursday, Polk came home, and dozens of Gulfport leaders were there to say thank you.
"It says something about this city. And it says something about this country," thought Dr. Kelly. "So I just want everybody to know that we're just very proud of the city and how they responded to the heroism of this young man."
Walker summarized the feelings of many when he said, "We can only hope to serve as well as he did."
SSgt. Polk is survived by his wife and four children. He was buried Saturday at the Biloxi National Cemetery.