The voice of and for USM students




Hattiesburg community honors veterans with vigil

For 24 hours, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) men and women from The University of Southern Mississippi guarded and walked exactly 21 steps as they safeguarded the vigil of fellow Hub City soldiers at the Veterans Park in downtown Hattiesburg.

“They trained each other for this event,” said Maj. USAF Major Steven Fogle, ROTC Instructor and Assistant Professor of Aerospace Studies at The University of Southern Mississippi. “My seniors have been doing this for the last few years, and we plan to make sure that this continues.”

The 21 steps the guard took represented the same number of tombstones. The guards will walk for 30 minutes with their M1 Rifles and then swap with another guard. These guards will have a watcher, as well, to make sure no one steps in front of the guards’ way. One candle sits atop a white table to represent that these soldiers live on in spirit just as people who are still alive today. After every rotation, there is supposed to be someone that is to check on the rifle because of tradition.

This devotion all started in 1991 when Shelby Townsend, a USM Air Force ROTC Graduate, sat down and had a beer with a fellow tomb guard for the tomb of the unknown soldier, Mark Miller. The two men discussed how Veteran’s Day was arriving soon and the known ceremony was for soldiers who went MIA in the Vietnam war. In this ceremony, military personnel would be locked in a cage the same way that the U.S. prisoners of war were in the Vietnam War. The two men decided that they did not favor this idea as the most honorable thing to do for veterans. They then decided on gathering two more cadets who were willing to set up and walk their newly created vigil with them.

Originally, there were no 30-minute intervals and each of the four men would walk for 6 hours with the rifle until the 24 hours was complete. The Townsend family still cooperates with this honor today as Michael Townsend, a 1974 USM class graduate, is the nephew of Shelby and officially goes by Col. Townsend. The vigil is incredibly important to Townsend, as it represents pure honor to him without any crowds or rewards.

“They don’t have to be here,” Townsend said. He mentioned how even though media will be surrounding the vigil, the ceremony will still be the same regardless of how much media would cover it that year.

On Nov. 9 at 7:00 P.M., the names of the soldiers from WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were read aloud. Townsend explained that Veterans come and pay their respect at any time. He said that sometimes you can see people watching the guards at 2 A.M.

When Vice Wing commander, Meagan Traham is asked why she is willing to walk 21 steps repeatedly with an approximately 9lb gun on her shoulders, she said, “This is the least we can do.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to SM2

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Southern Mississipi. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to SM2

Comments (0)

All Southern Miss Student Media Center Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *