Local group honors those who’ve served their country

Larry Newsom served more than 30 years in the United States Army before retiring in 2001 as a chief warrant officer fifth class.

His time in service included stints in Vietnam in the 1960s, spending about a decade in the National Guard in the ‘70s and then returning to active duty in the ‘80s and ‘90s in which he served in Germany and was there when the Berlin Wall was torn down.

Members of the West Tennessee Veterans’ Coalition, Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution wave American flags and greet drivers on Interstate 40 from the Spain Road overpass on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. (BRANDON SHIELDS/The Jackson Post)

“President [Ronald] Reagan was calling for any experienced veterans that could serve to come back to improve our military, so I went back then,” Newsom said.

On Friday, Newsom represented the Army and the Sons of the American Revolution on the Spain Road overpass over Interstate 40 waving flags and thanking any veterans who may have driven under for their service. The event was called Bridges of Madison County, which has become a new Veterans’ Day tradition in Jackson.

“A lot of people are honking back in support,” Newsom said after saluting a truck driver who was approaching the bridge from the west. “Some of those trucks are loud and you know when they’re here.”

Jackie Utley, the president of the West Tennessee Veterans Coalition and one of the local leaders of the Daughters of the America Revolution, was also on the bridge with about 10 other people waving American flags and waving to drivers.

“Veterans’ Day is one of those days on the calendar where we do what we should be doing all year,” Utley said. “Anyone who served in our military deserves recognition and thanks every day of the year and not just one.”

The event on the overpass – and others over I-40 – started three years ago when the WTVC encouraged all who were willing and able to get on the bridges with flags signs welcoming home local soldiers with the 194th Engineer Brigade.

“A lot of people showed up to welcome them home, and the soldiers told us how great it was to see that when they returned home that we said we should do it every year on Veterans’ Day,” Utley said.

The welcome and the adoration is a far cry from the homecoming military members received after serving in Vietnam, which has been a driving force behind everything the WTVC does for its veterans.

“It was sad how our veterans were treated when they came home from doing what our country’s leaders told them to do,” Utley said. “This is done to hopefully do what we can to make sure it never happens again.”

For Newsom, who experienced some of that response when he returned home from Vietnam, he’s glad to wave a flag, give a salute and tell a fellow veteran thanks for his or her service. “I love my country and would be glad to serve again, but I imagine we’re pretty desperate if they’re calling me back at my age,” Newsom said. “But this country is worth serving and fighting for. I’d be glad to do it again.”