PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight program will take another group of Mississippi WWII veterans to Washington, D.C. next month to see their memorial.
The inaugural flight in May of this year was a huge success. One of the wonderful veterans who traveled on that flight, was Bilbo Rodgers of Pascagoula.
He grew up dirt poor, the son of a North Mississippi farmer. At the age of 18, he joined the U.S. Army. Back then, there was no mingling of the races in the military.
"We all trained separately," he told us. '"In fact, we did everything separate."
Mr. Rodgers and several other men, all black, were sent to the Normandy beaches four days after D-Day.
"It was rough," he remembered. "I really thought many a time, that we would not make it through. Every day there was bombing and strafing all around you," he said.
The black soldier's job was to unload ships carrying hundreds of gallons of gasoline. They would be on those Normandy beaches for six months doing that. To call it dangerous work would be an understatement.
"A lot of the fellows did not make it, they died over there," he said.
Rodgers vividly recalled the day they heard some German planes overhead. A dropped bomb was heading straight for the ship they were on, that was full of gasoline.
"We saw it coming," Rodgers said. "It landed about 40 feet away. Thank God it did not explode, because if it had, we would have all died."
Now, when he remembers those WWII days and his time on the Normandy beaches, he knows that he has lived a blessed life.
That life got a little better one spring morning this year. That's when this father of seven found himself standing at a very special place with a lot of fellow veterans. It was the WWII Memorial, that had been so long in coming.
For Bilbo Rodgers, it was the fulfillment of a dream.
"I could not help but reflect on the fact that I have been lucky enough to live long enough to make it to that memorial," he said. "I really never thought the day would come."
Later that same day, along with three other Mississippi WWII veterans, he had the honor of laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Mr. Rodgers is a soft spoken, humble man, but so proud to have served his country. And so honored, to have been part of the inaugural Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight.
As we ended our interview, a smile came to his face as he told us that day in Washington was one of the best days of his entire 86 years on this earth.
The next Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight heads to Washington on September 21st. Orientation takes place August 27th at the Joppa Shrine Center in Woolmarket. The program's website is at http://www.mgchonorflight.org/.
If you wish to make a donation, it can be mailed to:
MS Gulf Coast Honor Flight
PO Box 1912
Gautier, MS 39553