Thousands salute Iraq-bound soldiers with heroes' sendoff - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Thousands salute Iraq-bound soldiers with heroes' sendoff

By Lori Brown - bio | email | Follow us on Twitter

HERNANDO, Miss. (WMC-TV) - A Mid-South community gave a National Guard unit a heroes' sendoff as some soldiers departed for a third tour in Iraq.

Thousands turned out on Saturday to show their support for the 140 Mississippi soldiers who will be stationed about 30 miles south of Mosul.  

The soldiers were overwhelmed by the community's show of support.

"The turnout was great. I wasn't expecting that many people," said Private Steven Young, who is headed for his first tour of duty.

Specialist Ashley Berkley said she was also surprised by the turnout. 

"I didn't think there would be this many people," she said.

The young men and women shipping out said they don't feel like heroes.

But Sonny Roncali says they are. He's been in their boots before, in Vietnam. But Roncali didn't receive a hero's welcome.

"When we got off the plane we were spit on, balls were thrown at us," he said. "It was a disgrace to us when we came back. We don't want our soldiers to come back like that."

That's why Roncali came out to Commerce Street with his family and placed a big American flag on display.

"Freedom don't come free, it costs," he said.

Mother Ki Grace also knows the price. She watched proudly as her son marched.

"Oh, I see him right there," she said while pointing to her son. "There he is, he's smiling, look at him smiling!"

Specialist Justin Strickland's 10-month-old baby wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. But he'll realize it one day. Just like Specialist Ashley Berkley did about her father, who served three tours in Vietnam. He's the reason she enlisted in the National Guard.

"I've looked up to him my entire life," Berkley said. "It's important for some of us to serve."

The soldiers will serve for 13 months, nearly 7,000 miles away in a part of Iraq that's still deadly. The soldiers with the 2nd 198 Combined Arms Battalion will be stationed about thirty miles south of Mosul.


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