Veterans relocated by Katrina come home

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A long awaited Hurricane Katrina reopening and homecoming celebration takes place Monday. The new Armed Forces Retirement Home is welcoming home retirees.

They evacuated five years ago when that devastating storm threatened our area. And because of the destruction, they spent the last five years in Washington, D.C. while a new Armed Forces Retirement Home was built.

Dozens of returning residents will be on hand as the flag that was flown at the home during Katrina will be raised once again, first at half staff to honor those who were lost, and then at full staff. The flag ceremony will include the Gulfport High School Band playing the National Anthem, followed by Amazing Grace on bagpipes.

Then the first group of retirees will check into their new home. Later in the morning, another 100 retirees will return by chartered jet to more ceremony.

Elementary school students are expected to line a part of the route the retirees will travel from the airport to the home to welcome the veterans home.

Retirement Home Director Richard Heath is expecting about 40 veterans to drive in and settle in their new home.

"I don't know who is more excited, the residents or the staff coming back," Heath said.

Ahead of the big opening, workers and staff spent the weekend putting on the final touches.

"We were going through today and making sure the rooms have the shower curtains hung and the linen on the beds," Heath said.

The new campus will have 582 rooms, and they're step up from what the retirees left behind. Funding for the facility came from a 50 cent payroll deduction of active military personnel.

"They're coming back to brand new quarters about 450 square feet. It might not seem very big, but you have to remember that the old rooms were 90 square feet so these are five times larger," Heath said.

This time the rooms will also come with their own baths and showers. Among the amenities in the building are a bowling alley, surround sound theatre and access to a bank and library.

It's also been built to LEAD environmental standards, a feature that will serve as an educational opportunity to the community.

"We'll be giving environmental tours of the building explaining how we are contributing to making our planet greener."

The walkway which stretches 156 feet over Highway 90 is also ready for those coming back to check out along with the public. As for the new campus, it once again stands as a valued part of the South Mississippi community.

"It's beautiful, just absolutely beautiful We're ready for them, and I know they can't wait to get back."

We'll be there for this special homecoming. Later today on WLOX News and, see the retirees' reactions as they return to their new home in South Mississippi.

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