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Apology merits Legion medal in Gulfport

GULFPORT, MIss. — Kenneth "Truck" Casey Sr. remembers well the January day 43 years ago when military vehicles drove up to his home and told his family his brother had been killed in Vietnam.

He was only 14, but he recalls his family had to get a court order for the city to allow his brother's remains to be buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

"He wasn't the only guy in the community killed during that time," Casey said Friday. "It's not just about my brother. It's about everyone who died serving."

In November, Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel apologized to families of black members of the U.S. Armed Forces who weren't allowed to be buried in the city cemetery during the years of segregation.

Because of Schloegel's apology, the American Legion's Joe Graham Post 119 on Friday awarded the group's gold medal of merit to the city. The group presented a framed award to the city and certificates to Schloegel and the City Council.

"The city of Gulfport has distinguished itself with meritorious service," said Brian McDowell, commander of Post 119. "It is in that spirit that the American Legion is giving this gold medal of merit.

"Leadership is often taken for granted. It is because of a bold proclamation that we award this to the city."

Casey said he is proud the city received the award.

"I hate the fact that my parents are not around to see this day," he said.

Schloegel also said he appreciated the recognition.

"I'm more appreciative that the American Legion is part of the fabric of our city," he said. "The American Legion has been part of my life all my life, and we're very proud to get this award."

U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo said he admired Schloegel for apologizing.

"Wrongs and injustices that happen in the past — if they're not addressed, they can fester and continue to divide cities and nations."

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