GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Coast veterans lost one of their best friends late last month, when Rodney Wilkinson passed away. The 75-year-old Gulfport man had served for years in the U.S. Army, and was a highly decorated veteran of Korea and Vietnam.
I first met Rodney nearly 22 years ago, when he was one of the driving forces behind building a Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the coast. Wilkinson also spent much of his life thinking about a fellow veteran who never came home from war.
Rodney and Captain Howard Cody were high school classmates. Both graduated from Gulfport High in 1953.
Cody's plane was shot down over Vietnam back in 1963. His remains were never found. For years, Rodney wore the MIA-KIA bracelet bearing the name of Capt. Cody.
Capt. Cody's widow, Myrna Cody says Rodney Wilkinson was a wonderful, caring and giving man who will be dearly missed.
"Every time Rodney would talk to me about my husband, he would get tears in his eyes," Cody said. "In fact, he managed to wear out two of the bracelets and was working on the third when he passed away."
Since he retired from the U.S. Army years ago, Rodney and his wife have spent countless hours volunteering for coast military veterans. In 2007, he was recognized by the Veteran's Administration for his more than 8,000 hours of volunteer service.
After nearly dying in Vietnam in 1970 when a mortar blew up near him, Wilkinson knew he was one of the lucky ones who came home alive.
Because of his war experience, he battled a lot of physical and emotional scars over the decades. However, Rodney was never one to complain.
Myrna Cody called him one of the kindest people she ever met.
"He was so patriotic. He had terrible injuries of his own but, you know, he would have done anything for anybody."
Rodney Wilkinson was buried with full military honors at Biloxi's National Cemetery.