Last Sunday afternoon I rendezvoused with Glen Huff of Ocean Springs and Neil Randall of Slidell, La., at the edge of the Homochitto National Forest to go on a cemetery quest.
Both men have deep roots in Amite County and love genealogy.
We drove down the road to the Zack T. Smith Family Cemetery, surrounded by a chain link fence. This wasn’t the cemetery we were looking for, however.
Next to it dangled a wooden sign that said “Mayo Whidbee Family Cemetary.”
“They misspelled cemetery,” Glen said as we walked past.
“That’s the same mistake that cost me the sixth-grade spelling bee,” I said. (I did win in seventh grade, however.)
A solitary marker stands in the small, shady area: Marc Allen Latimer, 1965-2012.
What made this is a mystery is that neither Huff, nor Randall, nor anyone they’d asked knew anything about it. And Huff helped compile an Amite County cemetery book years ago.
The marker was snug between tall trees, giving the indication there was no grave underneath. That’s less and less surprising in these days when cremation is supplanting burial.
The stone bore military insignia — a helicopter; rifle, gun and boots; the rank CW4 (Chief Warrant Officer 4) and a U.S. Army emblem. A banner showing troops marching under an American flag dangles to the side — altogether a touching tribute to Mr. Latimer, who died at the young age of 47.
Randall later went to www.findagrave.com and got information on Latimer, who died at Corpus Christi, Texas, of cancer and was cremated. Turns out he was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the Army.
“Marc earned many awards as a soldier including the Bronze Star for bravery and a Broken Wing Award for successfully landing a disabled Black Hawk without injury to his co-pilot, crew or aircraft,” according to the obituary. “He was in every major conflict for the United States for more than 20 years, including both Gulf Wars, Bosnia and Somalia, and served duty in Korea, Germany and the Bahamas.”
Photos with the obituary show a smiling, likable-looking guy.
Randall said Latimer’s mother’s side of the family, the Brashears, was from Amite County, hence the marker here.
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On Monday I mentioned the cemetery to a couple of friends, and one said he knew of other interesting graveyards in the same neck of the woods. So on Tuesday I enlisted him to show me.
We took the same road through the national forest, and he pointed to a cut-over with an isolated stand of tall pines. We tromped through the bushes to find a tiny cemetery.
There were just a few markers, the largest being Frank F. Freeman, 1890-1908, and Rachael Freeman, 1869-1926. There were also some infant graves amid the pine, gum and huckleberries.
Farther up the road we stopped at Steele Cemetery. This one was notable for having a concrete block building that reportedly serves as a mausoleum. It’s boarded up tight and had no marker that I could find.
There were other mysteries here as well, like gravestones that faced west while the majority faced east as per custom; and a row of small markers with the same name inscribed on them all.
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Our last stop was Hunter Lane, which starts out paved and becomes narrow and gravel. My friend (who’s publicity-shy and didn’t want his name used) peered into the woods as I drove slowly. Finally he spotted a marker through the trees.
We walked in and found a solitary monument amid wrought-iron fence. The grave was for R.W. Anders, 1843-1906, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War.
“Pvt. Co. E 22 Miss Vols Confederate States Army,” the marker says.
My friend said he often visits cemeteries when he’s out and about.
“Sometimes when I’m done turkey hunting, I’ll stop by and visit with the old folks,” he said.
He added, “When I’m visiting with the old folks, I don’t get in a hurry.”