GULFPORT, Miss. — Cody Jackson is a young man on a mission.
The 11-year-old has made national headlines touring the nation in an attempt to thank as many veterans and servicemen and women as possible.
This week, the Alpharetta, Ga., resident's tour took him to Mississippi. After visiting the local USO and the Fisher House at Keesler Air Force Base on Wednesday, Cody toured Keesler, the Armed Forces Retirement Home and the Naval Construction Battalion Center on Thursday. He's set to wrap up his visit of the Magnolia State on Friday as the keynote speaker at the American Red Cross' Everyday Heroes Luncheon in Jackson.
Cody's visit to the retirement home was well received. Walking through the hallways of the home, Cody, dressed in his Young Marines uniform complete with a high-and-tight haircut, didn't miss a chance to extend his hand to each veteran he passed.
"I think it's something outstanding, a little guy coming around like that," said Earl Portrey, who met Cody while eating lunch in the cafeteria. "You don't see that very often."
At one point, Heather and Charlie Baird couldn't resist hugging Jackson to show their appreciation for his visit.
In the next room, where veterans have their artwork displayed, Ronald Washington was so moved he let Cody select a painting from his collection.
A Vietnam veteran, Washington was taken aback that a young man would take the time to travel the country and visit veterans. He said Cody's mission is a stark contrast to how Vietnam veterans were received when they returned home.
"You just don't see kids that age, heck you can't even get some adults to do it," he said, "It's amazing that a child can take that much interest in what we've done.
"It's just amazing. It's a rarity."
Ken Jackson said his son's mission began when he was 4. While at the airport, Cody couldn't understand why it was taking so long to get through security.
"So we told him about 9/11," Ken said. "Back with the armed security, (he asked things like) 'why does he have a gun?' and so he walked right up to the guy and thanked him for his service right then and there."
Ken said a Vietnam special also elicited emotions from Cody and ultimately set him in motion.
"He just started crying," Ken said. "His grandfather's a Vietnam veteran and he said 'we have to tell everybody that they're not bad.' He was upset with how the troops were treated and wanted to make sure they were appreciated so that's what he does."
Ken said Cody has personally shook the hand of more than 18,000 veterans and shipped off more than 6,000 pounds worth of care packages to troops since December 2011.
Each time Cody meets a veteran, he gives them a personalized business card that reads "Please accept my heartfelt thanks for your service to our nation. Thank you for protecting us."
"They served their country and fought for their freedom and they sacrificed their lives and put their lives on the line for us," Cody said.
Set in motion
Cody's visit was scheduled after Leslie Pitre, service to the armed forces manager for the American Red Cross Mississippi region, she saw his Facebook page.
"I just felt that Cody was a true inspiration as far as what we can do as a volunteer," Pitre said. "We're such a large military community and he has been really well received. To (the veterans), I think it's quite inspiring to see a young gentleman want to do so much and make his way around the country to thank them for their service."