From the Mayor’s Desk
Veterans Day – Remembering Wilson Brown
Dan M. Gibson, Mayor of Natchez
The date was August 5, 1864. US Naval Landsman Wilson Brown and his fellow Landsman, John Lawson, were serving on the USS Hartford during the Battle of Mobile Bay when a shell from the opposing side exploded on deck beside them, killing all but two of Brown’s six crew members. Lawson was hit in the leg by shrapnel and urged to seek care below deck. Refusing treatment, he immediately returned to his duties. Brown on the other hand was knocked below deck, breaking several ribs on his left side, and losing consciousness just as a man fell on top of him and died. Wilson Brown could easily have remained where he was after regaining consciousness, safe in the hold of the ship during a fierce battle. But he wasn’t that kind of man. Despite his injuries, he immediately climbed back up to the deck, and resumed his duties alongside his comrade, providing powder for the USS Hartford’s guns. For their bravery under fire, both Brown and Lawson would go on to be awarded the Navy Medal of Honor.
What’s most unusual about this story is that Wilson Brown and John Lawson were both members of the US Colored Troops. They were both African American sailors, and they were two of only eight African Americans awarded the Naval Medal of Honor during the Civil War. Lawson was born free in Philadelphia in 1837. Brown was born a slave in Natchez in 1841. Neither man chose where or what color they were born. But both chose to serve their country, and honorable was their service in a conflict that inflicted injury and death on boys and men from both sides – in many cases brothers, sons and fathers serving in opposing armies at the same time.
As we celebrate Veterans Day and thank those many veterans among us who have served so that America can remain free, I cannot help but remember my own father who has been deceased now almost a decade. Robert W. Gibson served honorably along with five of his six brothers in WWII. Thankfully all came home – but so many other American soldiers didn’t.
I am so grateful for the service of our veterans. Headlines in today’s news underscore the fragility of freedom. Countless victims of the war in Ukraine, if they were still alive today, would tell of their freedom just a year ago to awake each morning in their beautiful homes, go to their places of work or worship freely, never imagining that literally overnight their freedom and life itself would be snuffed out by the enemy.
In Israel, countless Jewish citizens of a great country now live in fear of what the future holds. Just a little over a month ago, they too were waking up each morning free to go about their days and free to worship in their synagogues. Now, over 1600 are dead, over 7,000 injured, and at last count, 239 are now held hostage. Yes, freedom is indeed fragile.
This Veterans Day, as we thank our veterans, let us also resolve to better support our military, understanding that true peace can only be won through strength. We should also resolve to better support our veterans. Right now in America there are many who served who suffer from both physical and mental illness – and many who live in poverty and who even are homeless. I salute organizations like our own Natchez VFW Post 9573 and Mark LaFrancis’ Home with Heroes. Both organizations provide support for our veterans, and I don’t know what we would do without them. I also salute patriots like our four surviving Veterans of World War II: Julius Carter, John Druetta, Levy Murray and “Capn. Jack” Kerwin – they are the best of “America’s Greatest Generation”. And I must also salute American Legion Past Commander Steve Neilsen who for many years kept the Natchez American Legion Post #4 going strong.
At 11 a.m., Saturday, November 11, I will place flowers on the grave of Landsman Wilson Brown, the only Naval Medal of Honor Recipient buried among the 8000 patriots who lay at rest in the Natchez National Cemetery. As I do, I will also give thanks for all who have served, regardless of the conflict. They all gave “their last ounce of devotion.” I invite all who would like to join me to feel free to do so. It’s the least we can do for those who have done so much. Because Natchez – Our Veterans – Deserve More.