Our Local Laurel Heroes

Years ago, if you stopped by at the local coffee shop, you’d find a group of 8-10 men there every single day. As one of the men said, they’d mostly sit around, drink coffee, and tell a bunch of lies that only got bigger and bigger as the days went on. Eventually, they decided instead of just talking about things they could do, they wanted to actually act. They decided they wanted to build a museum. They didn’t know a thing about building a museum, raising money, or where to even begin, but in 1996, they opened the doors to Laurel’s Veteran Memorial Museum. Immediately, the community of Laurel banded behind them and God opened doors in ways they could have never imagined. Local veterans heard they were there and they began donating artifacts and memorabilia, locals that had vacant commercial space even allowed them to use their buildings free of charge. Eventually, they outgrew their space and knew it was time to build a permanent building for the museum. Again, the city of Laurel banded together to help do what they could to get the building built. In 2005, the new and permanent home of the Veterans Memorial Museum was established. The 6000 square foot building sits proudly at 920 Hillcrest Drive in Laurel, Mississippi, and is the home to thousands of Military artifacts, memorabilia, and records of our incredibly brave local veterans. These local veterans are true heroes and even though we can't name them all, we wanted to highlight just a few.  

James I. Bass                                                                                                                                       3rd Class Shipfitter                                                                                                                                     USS Harding-DMS 28

“I was 16 when I enlisted. I had two brothers in the Military. One was in the Air-force and one was a medic with the Marines. I was in school while both of my brothers were out there fighting for our country. I couldn’t keep my mind on anything else. I knew the war was were I needed to be so I convinced my parents to sign me up. I wasn’t called up to bootcamp until my 17th birthday. I was stationed at Camp Perry Virginia for bootcamp. When I got to Camp Perry, my Navy Recruiter told me I'd get to be in a photograph lab in a battleship or an aircraft carrier. Well, I bought that, I believed him, but I found out real fast that wasn’t true. When I got out of bootcamp, they put me on the Destroyer. I went down through the Panama Canal into the Pacific. I did alright until we got to Okinawa. In Okinawa, a Japanese suicide plane got my ship. I got a 25 day survivors leave so I had to go back to Pearl Harbor and get some more clothes, but by the time I made it back to Pearl Harbor the war had ended so I never got to go back. In 1946, I got out of the Navy and went home to finish up school. I went back to Laurel High School, which was Gardiner High School at the time, just to play ball. I was 19 at the time and they didn’t let you play ball after 19 so I only got to play for a year. I graduated, met my wife, got married, and in 1952 we built a home here in Laurel. I’ve been in that same spot ever since. Now, my passion is this Museum and it excites me that folks are taking interest in something we've worked so hard to create.”"I’ve heard a lot of war stories, but one that sticks out the most is one about my brother:" 

Lieutenant Colonel Julius E. Bass                                                                                               U.S. Air Corp- WWII Korea

"He was a B-17 bomber pilot in WW II. On February 6, 1944, he was shot down over Bricey, France by a German solider. He was captured after he bailed out of his airplane and taken to a German prison camp. On the way to prison camp the German solider, in broken english, said 'i’ll write you after the war.' Julius had a broken shoulder and was burned up pretty bad so he didn’t pay him much attention. Julius was taken on to prison camp. After the war, Julius went on to work for Delta Airlines in Camp Kennedy. One day he received a brown craft paper envelope from a guy named Hubert Winklmaier and in that envelope, was a piece of his white silk parachute with his name, date, and Laurel, MS written on it. There was a note included that read ‘I’m including this to prove that I was the German solider that captured you, and my wife and I would like to come visit.’ They became like brothers through all of that. I guess you could say we were all fighting for the same thing in a way. They fought for their country just like we fought for our country. "- Jimmy Bass 

Corporal Larry Callahan                                                                                                                       I CO 7th Marines- Vietnam 1966-1967 

"I became a marine when I was young. I fought as a ground marine in Vietnam from 1966-1967. I decided not long after that, i'd go back home, get an education, and become a pilot for the Army. I retired as a Lt. Col in the Army. Now, I serve as president here at the Veterans Museum. "

Corporal James Daniel Slaton                                                                                                             Military Medal of Honor Award U.S. Army                                                                                                 WWII 1941-1945

In 1942, Corp. Slaton enlisted when he was thirty years old. Leaving behind his wife and four sons, he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at Camp Shelby on June 8, 1942. After basic training, he went on to become a rifleman. Riflemen are known to have had one of the most dangerous positions in the Army as they rely on themselves for their own safety. He was assigned to Company K, 157th infantry, U.S. Army and was shipped to Italy. On September 23, 1943, Corporal Slaton put his own life at risk to serve his call of duty by successfully immobilizing three Nazi machine gun nest single-handed with a bayonet, grenade, and rifle fire. In November of 1943, Corporal Slaton was injured and forced to retire from active duty due to disability. He was later awarded with Medal of Honor. 

This Fourth of July, we reflect on the values that our founding fathers established for our great country, but more importantly, we reflect on the brave men and women that have fought to uphold our freedom. Our Veterans Memorial Museum is a place that we are especially thankful for. May we never forget those that lost their lives in sacrifice to serve for our Nation. God Bless America and Happy Fourth of July from your Mercantile family! 

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