ITTA BENA, Miss.— Hundreds of visitors filled the campus of Mississippi Valley State University Saturday, July 14, to honor the legacies of the 15 Marines and one Navy Corpsman who passed away last year when their military aircraft crashed into a nearby soybean field in Itta Bena.
The Walter Roberts Auditorium of MVSU’s H.G. Carpenter Building was nearly filled to capacity for the dedication ceremony that included a greeting from MVSU President Dr. Jerryl Briggs, Sr. as well as special tributes from MS Gov. Phil Bryant; U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith; Lt. Gen. Rex McMillian, Commanding General of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve and the U.S. Marine Corps Forces North; and Lt. Gen. Carl E. Mundy, III, Commanding General of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command.
“As we gather today for the YANKY 72 memorial service, ‘The Valley’ extends its heartfelt condolences to the families and friends,” said Briggs. As a University, our motto is ‘Live for Service’, meaning we truly understand and embrace a passion for giving. The Valley family can assure you all that this university community will stand with you and give support, always.”
Briggs then joined Commissioner Mike Tagert of the MS Northern Transportation District in unveiling the highway marker renaming 7.2 miles of U.S. Highway 82 (from the site of the YANKY 72 Memorial to the Leflore/Sunflower county line) as the YANKY 72 Memorial Highway.
In addition to the naming of the memorial highway, Mississippi's Marine Corps League led an effort that raised more than $100,000 for a memorial placed outside of the Leflore County Incubator where the recovery effort was based, several miles east of the crash site.
Bryant said that the highway marker and the newly constructed memorial site are just small gestures to honor the legacies of the servicemen.
“The memorial that was built will last for generations and generations, and we hope that generations hence will come to that memorial and remember those 16 that were lost, and never forget that freedom is not free—whether it is on foreign battlefields or here in Leflore County,” Bryant said.
Hyde-Smith called the 16 servicemen “giants among men.”
“We will recognize them as such forever,” she added. “It is our responsibility to carry on the legacy of honor and courage these men represent.”
Mundy applauded MVSU for its support in hosting the YANKY 72 dedication ceremony.
“I told Dr. Briggs that I didn’t realize that he was a former Marines, and that he epitomizes what it means to be ‘semper fidelis’. I won’t forget that, and I will always remember Mississippi Valley State University for more than just Jerry Rice,” he remarked.
After the ceremony, shuttles transported those in attendance across the highway from MVSU for the unveiling of the memorial. During the unveiling ceremony, plans were announced to host a ceremony at the memorial site each July.
The YANKY 72 Memorial and Dedication Ceremony were made possible by the Marine Corps Aviation Association, the Marine Corps League, the United States Marine Corps Reserve Association, the Wingman Foundation, the Marine Raider Foundation, the Marine Battleherks, the Marine Corps Air Transport Association, Leflore County and the City of Greenwood, Hamilton and Associates, Larry’s Fish House, and MVSU.