GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - An 11-year-old boy from Atlanta is being hailed a hero by the American Red Cross Mississippi Region. It's not for saving someone's life, but for what he's doing for our military veterans.
Cody Jackson calls himself the "One Boy USO". His mission is to shake hands with as many of our nation's heroes as possible. On Thursday, Cody made several stops in South Mississippi to say two simple words: "Thank you."
Cody looked like a young Marine as he arrived at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport. The administrator and a group of Gulfport Seabees were among the first to greet him. The soft-spoken young man seemed quite at ease in a sea of strangers.
"Thank you," Cody immediately told a Seabee standing nearby.
The boy shook hands with every military man, woman and veteran he met.
"Thank you for your service," he told each person.
"It makes me feel good that I can thank them. When they came back home from Vietnam, they weren't thanked," said Cody.
It all started when Cody was four-years-old. While waiting in an airport security line, Cody asked why it was taking so long. His parents told him about the devastation of 9/11 and the sacrifices of our troops. Cody then walked over to the nearest soldier and shook his hand.
"I want them to feel good for what they did," Cody said.
Since then, Cody has shaken more than 18,000 hands and melted the hearts of so many admirers.
"Thank you for your service," he told Army veteran John McCoy.
"About face, oh my Lord," McCoy responded as Cody saluted him.
"I was very surprised, but honored I sure was to meet him," said McCoy.
"You are so special," one lady commented as she gave him a kiss on the head.
Cody has also shipped some 6,000 pounds of care packages to troops deployed overseas. He's even written two children's books to teach other young people about patriotism.
"They don't really care about the military. They just sit on the couch and play with their X Box when they should be up thanking the soldiers and the veterans for what they did, because if the soldiers weren't fighting, they wouldn't be sitting there," said Cody.
"I served in the Korean War," Thomas McNamara told Cody.
"Welcome home," Cody told him.
"It takes a little bit of moxie to come in here and see people you don't know, and he shook hands like a real man," said Air Force veteran Rick Eyman.
When asked when he will stop shaking hands, Cody replied, "Until I can be able to join the Marines."
Vietnam veteran Ronald Washington was deeply touched by Cody's simple act of kindness.
"I paint at night when I can't sleep, because I still have nightmares. So I would like to give you one of my paintings," Washington told Cody.
The young man picked out a painting for his bedroom, and gave Washington a hug. For the "One-Boy USO", it wasn't easy being the center of attention.
"It's not about me today. It's about the veterans, and they're supposed to feel appreciated," Cody said.
Cody also visited Keesler Air Force Base Thursday morning. On Wednesday, he stopped by the USO in Gulfport. On Friday, Cody will be speaking at the Red Cross "Everyday Heroes Luncheon" in Jackson.
"It's amazing what a small 11-year-old can do and what they're capable of if they put their mind to it," said Leslie Pitre, Red Cross Regional Service to Armed Forces Manager. "I'm so inspired. I had a few moments of ready to cry, because he's just incredible."