Video: One year later: Revisiting Bruce, Miss.

By Roger O’Neil Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/10/2004 7:23:21 PM ET 2004-03-11T00:23:21

In dozens of American towns, it’s the most memorable picture of the troops coming home. One voice said, “You’re heavier than you were.”  And it never loses its poignancy.

For Jackie Logan, a year without her best friend — her dad — wasn’t nearly as tough as that last minute: “I couldn’t find him at first, and then when I found him, I wanted to just get to him and hug him.”

After the hugs, the National Guardsmen from Bruce, Miss., found out those they left behind did a pretty darn good job keeping their little town going.

Remember, the postmaster left, as did all the mechanics at the garage, and left “manning” the cash register at the convenience store was a 12-year-old boy.

The 223rd Army Engineering Battalion took 50 of Bruce’s brightest when it deployed to Iraq.  This in a town of only 2,000.

Here’s what Mayor Jesse Quillen said a year ago: “Trying to take care of each other as best we can.”

And take care of each other they did.

At the convenience store now, there is a “man” at the cash register, even though Kegan Coleman is only 13.  Marshall Coleman, Kegan’s father, said: “It almost brings tears to my eyes because he, he was a child, and he took on some responsibilities that were manly in nature.  I told him to do the best he could.”

Nellie Freelon promised her husband, Ben, she’d do her best to keep the repair shop open.  But there were four empty chairs.

Guess who’s sitting in those chairs today?  The four mechanics are back.

“I’m so glad … we kept it going,” Nellie said.

“I’m very proud of her holding up her end of the bargain, and I will reward her (big smile),” said Ben Freelon.

Mayor Quillen says the town learned a lot about itself: “We can face difficult problems in the future with confidence knowing that together we can overcome.”

Bruce, Miss., is proud of itself its citizen soldiers, who all came home.

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