By ALLISON TALLEY
Jackson’s Remarkable Heroes
A history teacher asked her 10th-grade class one day to research and submit a brief history of the American Revolution. The next day, the brightest student in the class turned in a one-page report that simply said: “Somebody dumped tea into the Boston Harbor, someone else hung lights in a church steeple, Paul Revere went riding around the countryside at midnight, and Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence.” He continued, “There were a few battles and a rough winter at Valley Forge, but George Washington kicked out the British.” That’s the sum of the impression that many people have of the American Revolution, but it’s not quite that simple.
There are at least 150 years of history before that. Toss in the first settlement of Jamestown, early slavery, the formation of thirteen colonies, the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, the Boston Massacre, and the Coercive Acts, and the story becomes more complete. History gets even more interesting with the Great Awakening where, without the benefit of television or multi-media, two evangelists named Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield introduced a radical approach to religion that sparked political change creating a new spirit of toleration and secularism that eventually influenced the Constitution.
On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by some of the most remarkable men our country would ever know. The freedom and the birth of our country were only a war away. The winner writes the history books and the United States did win the war and we have our independence and freedom today because of it.
If we fast-forward only 41 years, we step into a more personal history. Mississippi became a state in 1817 and the city of Jackson was designated the state capital soon after. Only a few short years later, in 1838, the First Baptist Church of Jackson was formed by a small group of people. Surviving more war, depression, and early dark days of sickness and disease, First Baptist Jackson today sits at the southeast corner of the Capitol Building, and today’s congregation continues to have a passion for our country’s liberty and freedom.
We have relied on history books to reveal our past, but visiting with those who were a part of the history is an even better way to learn first-hand how our country became what it is today. I recently sat down with two veterans who were able to share their accounts of fighting for my freedom and for yours. Sometimes deemed “the greatest generation,” they truly are because they are extraordinary and their accomplishments are humbling.
When I was a one-year-old, I met Major General Wayne Burkes when he was the pastor of my hometown church. A native of Neshoba County, he went into active service with the Air Force in 1951. He was our pastor, but he was also an officer with the Mississippi National Guard. His weekly schedule included preaching on Sunday and then leaving first thing on Monday for a remote part of the world. He was an accomplished pilot and when one of our church members found out he was frequently in and out of Vietnam, she asked if he could deliver a homemade cake to her son who was serving there. He took the cake intact to Vietnam, found the woman’s son, and delivered it as promised. He retired in 1989 with more than 38 years of total service to the military. He never bragged about his accomplishments. As I was visiting with him in a V.A. Nursing Home where he is a resident, he teared up as he reminisced about his service for our country, especially about getting to hand-deliver a homemade cake from a mom who desperately missed her son.
Mr. Ed Gamble lives in Northeast Jackson and is one of the few World War II (WWII) veterans that I know. His generation is quietly slipping away, but Mr. Gamble is as active at 96 as most men half his age. Originally from Tullos, Louisiana, Mr. Gamble enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard right after the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. He was sent to the Gulf of Mexico to serve. This seems like an odd place to be during WWII, but many people do not realize or remember that the Gulf of Mexico, just a couple of hours from Jackson, was a big part of WWII in 1942. Mr. Gamble recalls the war and his service there like it was yesterday. In great detail, he described how the Germans devastated our military in the Gulf by sinking 56 merchant vessels. He told me about the physiological impact of a homeland attack and the panic and despair that it caused. “Our men were seeing a war only a few hours from their homes,” says Mr. Gamble.
Mr. Gamble profoundly told me, “No one had to tell us what we were fighting for—we knew. We fought for our country’s freedom. The U.S. saved the whole world from a lot of terrible people like Hitler. What is so heartbreaking to me and to all of my generation is all of the blood shed in World War II didn’t save us from what is happening now in our world. We have the same problem again.”
“Because of our love and appreciation of our history and men like Wayne Burkes and Ed Gamble and many others, we make July 4 a really big deal in our church,” says Dr. Lavon Gray, Lead Worship Pastor at First Baptist Jackson. “It is important all generations understand what the great men and women who have served our country have done for us. We want to invite everyone to celebrate not only our country’s freedom but the freedom we have in Christ because of the ultimate sacrifice He made on the cross.”
Let Freedom Ring is an annual celebration of these freedoms with a special recognition of veterans and active servicemen and women. All military will be acknowledged for their sacrifice at this special service on July 2, at 10:30 a.m., at First Baptist Church of Jackson.
Allison Talley is the Director of Communications for First Baptist Jackson. You can contact her at 601.949.1995 or firstname.lastname@example.org.