VANCLEAVE, MS (WLOX) - Tonight, some 300 Jackson County veterans and their families are back at home, full of memories that will last a lifetime.
The colors were raised and those who never came home were remembered by more than 700 students at Vancleave High School on Thursday. Students sat in rapt attention as keynote speaker Lt. Col. Alan Chouest, the chaplain at Keesler Air Force Base spoke about true sacrifice.
"Seventy-two times we had ramp ceremonies where my brothers and sisters were going home in a body bag," said Chouest.
Some of those who did come back have ties in Vancleave, including Marine veteran Don Wallis.
"I come here and I see the young students, hoping that I can influence them in any way I can like this school influenced me when I was young," Wallis said.
The eldest veterans were honored, and then the students displayed their patriotic talents to the adoring crowd.
"They put their heart into it. It wasn't just something that was thrown together. They actually put their heart into it and they meant what they were doing," Air Force vet Roy Buxton said.
For some of the veterans in attendance, watching the honor to their service brought back memories they feel like never left.
"It kind of makes me want to join again and just keep serving. It's almost like I never got out. It was very heartfelt," Air Force vet Nickie Barnett said.
Some students plan on following a military path, such as ROTC student Allen Joiner.
"I want to be ready to serve by going out and serving other people and helping out country stay safe," Joiner said.
Others, like Sydney Kendrick, took home knowledge that can't be found in a textbook.
"You're seeing how they all served in the military and to respect them, and it's very humbling to be able to see them and be able to interact with them," said Kendrick.
It was the 15th year the students at Vancleave have hosted the event. After the ceremony, veterans and their families were treated to lunch.