L-R, Denise and Damian Marquith with Raymond Hicks
By Allen A. Buchanan, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church held its seventh annual tribute to local veterans at Childs Park Recreation Center last Saturday, Nov. 11.
Mt. Pilgrim, along with other churches, recognizes the veterans in our community by showing their appreciation for their service and giving back to the community with a family and friends fun day.
The Pirate Brigade of The Boca Ciega High School JROTC kicked off the ceremony with the presentation of the colors.
Coordinated by Minister Raymond Hicks of Mt. Pilgrim, who served more than 20 years in the military, the afternoon saw guess speakers, games, prizes, health screening for vets and their families, information to help veterans, free haircuts and music, music, music.
“It’s an honor to have served,” said guest speaker Damian Marquith. As captain of a company of New York National Guardsmen from the 101st Cavalry, he and his battalion were deployed to Bosnia during an insurgency in the mid-1990s. A decade later he led a coordinated military operations effort with a battalion of Iraqi soldiers to secure Bagdad from insurgents’ weapons that were maiming American troops and Iraqi people in 2005.
As Marquith looked at the people listening to him at the gathering, he said he “had a hard time accepting when people come up and say thank you” because he still felt he had not done enough to serve his country.
Master of Ceremony Reverend Leroy Kirkland took time after the program to share an experience that would shape the modus operandi of future attack methods against Allied Forces in the Middle East for the next two decades.
“We had been stopping scud missiles aimed at Saudi Arabia, but one of them got through,” said Kirkland who lost 19 service troops under his supervision.
The American soldiers were housed in Khobar Towers where multiple military personnel and civilians from various countries stayed while on tour in the Eastern Province.
“It’s grace and mercy that I wasn’t there when the Scud hit, but if it had been my choice, after going in afterwards, I think I would have rather been in the barracks with them.”
Kirkland’s experience of shock and grief was felt by many civilian and service personnel on that dreadful day back in June 25, 1996.
“It was closing in on the first anniversary year of my marriage, and I was working as an ESOL Instructor for the Saudi Consolidated Electric Company. I was sitting in my favorite community restaurant in downtown Al Khobar when the scud missile struck. Several of us in the restaurant fell out of our chairs and the owner and servers told us to go outside immediately.
As soon as I got outside, I looked south and saw the reddish-orange plume of smoke slowly rising from the devastation about three to five miles to the south of us. The first thing I thought about was my wife and daughter in St. Petersburg over 8,000 miles away. I knew my wife would hear the news within hours. After the frantic scurry to get international communications back up and running, I reached a panicked wife and family when I spoke to them the following day from my job in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.”
Hearing Kirkland’s account touched an empathetic nerve for his feelings of despair. Sometimes it seems unfair that one might escape a tragedy only to have to ponder the question: “Lord, why me?”
After the ceremony was over, lunch was being served directly from the grill. Several artists including the Edifyd Praisers mime duo performed and rounded out the remainder of the afternoon.