By STEVEN NALLEY
Military blood runs in the Howard family.
Marvell Howard, Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors president, once worked with air defense artillery in the U.S. Army. His daughter, LaShaundra Howard, is in the U.S. Army Reserve, and his son, Christopher Howard, is an engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“It pushed me toward rather than pushed me away (from being) in the military, knowing my dad had been in the military,” Christopher Howard said. “Your daddy (is) one of your first heroes.”
Independence Day has special meaning for the Howards and other local officials around Starkville and Oktibbeha County.
Marvell Howard said neither of his children have been deployed to foreign combat zones, but his son’s first deployment is expected in October. Marvell Howard said he himself joined the military in 1978, so he wasn’t involved in any major conflicts. He said he is proud of both his children for choosing to serve their country.
“There’s always concern, but we’ve got strong Christian belief, and so we just trust God to take care of (Christopher Howard),” Marvell Howard said. “Being involved with the military and knowing the sacrifices people make so we can continue to enjoy those freedoms, it means a lot. (It) increases my appreciation for being independent.”
Christopher Howard said he is proud to have a helping hand in preserving independence for his family and everyone in America. He said he knows other troops who will remain in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones through Independence Day, fighting for Americans’ right to have an Independence Day.
“Every day is July 4, because we still fight for that, to remain an independent country,” Christopher said.
Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and as such, she said, she carries great respect and feeling for Independence Day.
She said one of America’s key strengths is a willingness to improve itself and revisit such core documents as the Constitution, creating an open, accepting country without which she could not have accomplished as much as she has.
“I am a huge proponent of service to your country, whether you choose to serve in a military role or a non-military role,” Spruill said. “July 4 is certainly a symbol of that commitment to your country. I think it’s (also) symbolic of one of the greatest achievements of human interaction and organization.”
Jennifer Gregory, vice president for tourism development with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said she has a family full of veterans and appreciation for them. Her grandfather was a pilot in World War II, she said. Her father was in a U.S. Navy submarine during the Vietnam War, during which her uncle met his wife in Germany on duty with the U.S. Army, and her father-in-law was in the U.S. Army Reserve, she said.
“We are always thinking of the military and how appreciative we are of them fighting for freedom every day,” Gregory said. “Also, the city of Starkville puts a lot of emphasis on military appreciation, and that’s really nice in a town. July 4 is a celebration of our country’s independence, and I think it’s a time for everyone to reflect and think of our military veterans that are fighting for our freedom every day. It’s a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family and really reflect on how fortunate we are to be Americans.”
Gregory said one of the key facets she believes makes America great is the opportunity to be an individual. She reflected on American individualism while visiting New York City this past week, she said, and it made her realize how well Starkville also reflects that individualism.
“It was amazing to see how many people of different ethnicities, different political mind sets and different lifestyles can all live together in one place,” Gregory said. “I think we see that in Starkville. Because of the university ... we have people from all over the world here, and that’s nice because it contributes to all the different cultural aspects of the community.”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said his roommate from college, a fellow Starkville native named Steven Jones, joined the U.S. Army about a decade ago and is currently stationed in Hawaii. Wiseman said Jones has fought in the Middle East, and he and other military servicemen will be on his mind this Independence Day.
“Certainly, in any holiday (where) we celebrate our country, it is important to remember the tremendous sacrifice of all who have served in the military and gone into harm’s way to protect the freedoms that make us who we are as a people,” Wiseman said. “It’s a time to take pause and recognize the ideals that this country was founded upon and the hard work through the democratic process since its founding that has made the United States of America the country we know and love.”