A common perception of contemporary teenagers is that their level of patriotism is low in comparison to other demographic groups. That belief stems from the idea that the everyday issues of teenage life take precedence over other concerns, especially those involving people that they don’t know.
However, in the case of six teenagers in the town of Long Beach, Mississippi, that’s simply not the case. Instead of feeding into the usual stereotypical depiction of those in their age bracket, the young men chose to offer a final tribute to a Vietnam War veteran who was in danger of simply being forgotten.
That veteran, Jerry Wayne Pino, was a Navy petty officer third class during the tumultuous conflict in Vietnam. The Louisiana native died in Long Beach on December 12, 2016 at the age of 70, with his body taken to Riemann Family Funeral Homes to prepare him for burial.
Two employees of the funeral home, Cathy Warden and Eva Boomer, came to realize in the ensuing days that Pino had no family or friends that would either be at the service or be available as pallbearers. The situation especially hit home for Boomer, who also had served in the military.
“Something had to be done with respect,” Warden said. “We had to give him what he deserved. Nobody should go alone.”
Warden texted her son, Bryce, about the situation and asked if he’d be able to convince some of his friends at the local high school to serve as pallbearers for Pino. In just a matter of moments, Bryce informed his mother that those friends would indeed be available.
There had been fears that because of the timing of the service, coming during the holiday season, the students would be reluctant to give up their free time. Instead, Bryce’s friend, Bailey Griffin, expressed the collective opinion of the group.
“It was the right thing to do,” Griffin said. “He served our country. He fought for our rights. For him to be buried with nobody there was just sad. I told myself I was going to do it and I did it.”
On the day of the burial, each of the students was respectfully dressed as they carried Pino’s casket to his burial spot at Biloxi National Cemetery. Joining them to honor the veteran was an honor guard.
Upon the conclusion of the service, the teenagers were presented with the flag that had draped Pino’s casket. While the group seeks a place to display the flag, they’ve made sure to continue to respect it by enclosing it within a glass case and also attaching a plaque with Pino’s name on it.
There’s some talk about displaying the encased flag either at Long Beach High School, where the students attend, or in the boy’s locker room. In the latter case, that’s because four of the pallbearers play on the high school’s football team.
Regardless of that final decision, the teenagers’ actions show that their concept of respect for patriotism is alive and well.