Iraq vet praises commrades

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 13, 2004

AHOSKIE – Jesse Dickens blended well into the crowd here Thursday morning.

Despite dressing out in his desert fatigues, Dickens mingled among a crowd of nearly 250 that turned out for the annual Veterans Day tribute staged by local American Legion Post 102. What the majority of that crowd didn’t know was that Dickens was back home in Hertford County, fresh off the war in Iraq.

&uot;I’m so pleased to see this large turnout to honor those men here today that I consider my heroes – the veterans that have fought and bled for our freedom,&uot; said Dickens, a National Guard Sergeant now assigned to the 120th Headquarters Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 1st Division stationed in northern Iraq. &uot;It’s my honor to rub elbows with these men.&uot;

Dickens, a veteran in more ways than one as he is a longtime faculty member within the Hertford County Public School system, is home on a short leave. He returns to Iraq next week.

&uot;We’re fortunate to be away from the heavy action, like what’s going on now in Fallujah, but we’re always on high alert,&uot; noted Dickens. &uot;We’re always aware of incoming mortar rounds and remain alert for insurgent activity when traveling.&uot;

Although he finds himself thousands of miles away from home while defending his country against the threat of terrorism, Dickens said he was uplifted by the warm spirit he feels from family and friends in the R-C area.

&uot;You can actually feel the love, support and prayers being lifted up for myself and my comrades,&uot; he stated. &uot;It’s very comforting to know there are so many thinking of us.&uot;

As far as what he senses from the Iraqi citizens, Dickens said they appeared very appreciative of the U.S. military presence in their country.

&uot;Personally, I’ve found the people in Iraq very friendly and thankful for what the troops are doing,&uot; he said.

Thursday’s tribute was full of activities, including remarks from guest speaker Julius Shoulars. The Rich Square native served with the U.S. Navy in World War II. He was a member of a Naval Beach Battalion team that landed on the infamous Omaha Beach on D-Day.

&uot;There were bullets flying, shells exploding and men dying; it was terrible,&uot; said Shoulars. &uot;After about four days, things began to quiet down. We were on that beach for about three weeks.&uot;

Shoulars was later a part of the Battle of Okinawa. He then helped move troops from Japan and China at the end of the war.

&uot;I saw a lot in two and one-half years,&uot; he noted. &uot;I wouldn’t give you 10 cents to do it again, but the experience was worth a million bucks.&uot;

Shoulars went on to thank all veterans, no matter what branch of the military they served or if they pulled their duty during wartime or peacetime. He urged the veterans to share their stories of military service – both the good and the bad – with family members.

Also taking part in Thursday’s service were the student choruses representing Hertford County High School and Bearfield Primary School.

Post 102 Commander John Bracy served as the emcee of the event. Linda Meeks of the Post 102 Auxiliary read the poem – &uot;Freedom is Not Free.&uot; Rev. William Reid, a Post 102 member, led prayer on two occasions.

The 11 a.m. event was preceded by a Veterans Day parade down Main Street.