GULFPORT — Mayor George Schloegel apologized Monday to the families of African-American members of the U.S. Armed Forces who weren't allowed to be buried in the city cemetery during times of segregation decades ago.
Schloegel appeared at a Veterans Day service in downtown Gulfport Monday. He honored three black men from his city who had died in Vietnam, but weren't allowed to be buried on city property because of segregation — something he called a "travesty" that existed there and many other places in the United States. The men were U.S. Army 1st Lt. Raymond Greene, Army Spc. 4 "Rickey" Casey who were both killed in 1970 and Army Pvt. Augustus Adams, who was killed in 1971. It's likely there are others and the mayor said he wanted their families to hear his message, as well.
"Things have changed," Schloegel said. "We apologize for the past, but we recognize the future. We dedicate this day to those individuals who have experienced that travesty, but it will never happen again."
Gulfport Councilman "Truck" Casey, brother of Rickey Casey, was 14 years old when the Army came to his family's home to tell them Rickey Casey, who was 19, had been killed on his second tour to Vietnam. It took the heartbroken family about 10 days from the time Rickey Casey was killed to have a judge rule in their favor to allow the soldier to be buried in Evergreen Cemetery. The councilman, who also served in the Army and attended the event Monday, said he appreciated the mayor's remarks about Rickey Casey, whom he considered a role model.
"He was my heart, my big brother," Casey said.
Some of Greene's family also attended, but officials said they couldn't locate any of Adams' relatives.
The remarks came at the Veterans Day observance put on by the American Legion's Joe Graham Post 119, which was held near the Gulfport World War II Memorial. Patriotic music played and wreaths were placed. WLOX-TV Chief Meteorologist Mike Reader, a former U.S. Navy Chief, served as master of ceremonies and the featured speaker was Cmdr. Maria Aguayo, commanding officer of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11, based at the Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport.
Aguayo, who was born in Mexico, but grew up in Tempe, Ariz., after her parents immigrated, said she was proud to serve her country.
"I love and believe in our country and not only is it most worthwhile to defend, I consider it a personal honor to do so," Aguayo said.