World War II veterans honored with only flag to fly from Mississippi River bridge
Published 9:21 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024
Monday looked like a typical January day along the Mississippi River in Vicksburg: cold and overcast. It was nothing out of the ordinary for the some 28,000 people who cross the bridge into or out of Mississippi on a daily basis. But, if you looked hard enough around 11 a.m., you could make out two dark specks moving against the gray sky atop the Highway 80 bridge. If you kept watching, you couldn’t miss a spectacular burst of color as the vibrant red and blue of a new American flag was hoisted nearly 200 feet above the water.
This patriotic ascension takes place four times a year over the River City, as The Army-Navy Club of Vicksburg, Inc. retires one flag and replaces it with a new one every three months. But, the flags aren’t just reminders of freedom flapping high in the wind. Each new flag is raised in honor of a patriot with ties to Vicksburg. Monday’s ceremony honored William Aly Guthrie and Rhesa McCoy Allen Jr. and brought members of the men’s families to town to witness the event.
William Aly Guthrie served on active duty in the Army Air Corps for three years during World War II. He attained the rank of corporal and was stationed at Selman Field, a training base for navigators located in Monroe, La. Guthrie was a lifelong resident of Tensas Parish, La. and made his career at the Panola Company, LTD, where he served as general manager.
Rhesa McCoy Allen Jr. served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, from June 30, 1941, until October 24, 1945, and attained the rank of LTC. He was stationed in Gander, Newfoundland, New York City, and Tinian Island, the latter of which served as the airfield from which the planes responsible for dropping the nuclear bombs on Japan took off. He was later employed by Rutgers University as a geology professor and as a geologist for the French Coal Company in Bluefield, W.Va. He retired from Louisiana Tech University, where he also served as a geology professor.
Norman Francingues, chairman of the U.S. Highway 80 Bridge Flag Program – a civic project of the Army-Navy Club – said each new flag raising is another chance to honor the brave men and women who have served their country, as well as to continue the vision of the late Blanche Millsaps, who spearheaded the project with its first ceremony on April 13, 1994.
“She took it on herself to raise the money and to get the program started,” Francingues said before Monday’s new flag was raised. “April 13th will be 30 years the flag has been flying on the bridge. That first flag was a thing of beauty and Blanche loved it so much. She was so concerned this program would die and Lewis Decell asked her if we could take it over as a civic project. And that was the genesis of us being able to raise our first flag September 15, 2010.”
Francingues said, aside from each new flag’s significance to its sponsor, there are several aspects of all Vicksburg’s flags that make them unique as a group.
“It is the only American flag flying on a bridge over the Mississippi River from the headwaters to the Gulf,” he said. “And that’s something for Vicksburg to be proud of. That’s something for all patriots to be proud of.”
Francingues said around 85 individuals and organizations have sponsored flags over the years, including Monday’s sponsors Billy Guthrie, Barbara Guthrie Allen and Rhesa M. Allen III.
During Monday’s ceremony, Francingues thanked Vicksburg Bridge Commission of Warren County Superintendent Herman Smith and his workers for their continued efforts in raising and lowering the flags, as well as those who have sponsored flags or otherwise supported the U.S. Highway 80 Bridge Flag Program over the years.
Anyone wishing to help continue the tradition of flying the flags may do so by sponsoring a flag dedication, or by simply contributing a tax-deductible donation to the Army-Navy Club of Vicksburg, in care of Flag Program Chairman Norman Francingues, 100 Redbud Circle, Vicksburg, MS 39180. For more information, calls may be directed to 601-831-0454.