BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They fought for their country, then fell on hard times. Hundreds of area veterans, many of them homeless, found a community of care in Biloxi's Hiller Park on Thursday.
That's where the Gulf Coast VA, along with dozens of partner agencies, hosted the annual Stand Down event.
"I just happened to be hanging out and a friend of mine said, 'Come on brother. Let's go,'" said Stan Spencer, who lives in a tent in Biloxi.
With that friend's invitation, Spencer found himself among hundreds of other veterans in Hiller Park, where they were treated to things like haircuts, new clothes and flu shots.
"I've had nothing but a fun time. I've run into good people and good people run into me. That's always a pleasure," said Spencer.
Massage therapy students brought relaxation to the veterans' stiff necks and tired backs.
"It's just amazing that all these people put forth time, effort, energy, money. It's humbling," said veteran, Rob Apel.
Sarah Wright is a massage therapy student at Blue Cliff College. She says her grandfather was a veteran, and she was happy to lend her healing hands for this worthy cause.
"It's a really good feeling seeing them. Being able to help them at least relieve some sort of stress for the day," Wright said, smiling.
The medical team stayed busy offering blood pressure checks and other health services. Six year Army vet Mr. Dennis got a flu shot.
"This is real nice. I think it's a great event for the veterans, for the homeless veterans," said the former Army sergeant.
Jennie Conley says her veterans group knows all too well the need that exists.
"We hear veterans calling in or stopping by the building to ask for items or food and clothing just about on a daily basis," said Conley, who is with the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
"Get through all that, and we're in good shape," said one of Nicole Bondick's team members.
They came armed with clippers and combs. The crew cut hair and shared stories and smiles with their appreciative customers.
"They've given more than we ever possibly could. Just to be able to be out here and do a service for them. It's more than I can even say, you know. We're having a great time," said Bondick, the manager of Sport Clips in D'Iberville.
Veterans we talked with are most thankful for this event. Folks are not always so kind.
"They need to be more aware of the homeless veterans, because we served our country and it looks like they should help us out. I think this event is really doing that," said Mr. Dennis.