Canton Repository

Sept. 6, 2005

Stark-area troops helping in Mississippi

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

KILN, Miss. — After a three-day drive, members of an Ohio Army National Guard unit are happy to be able to get to work helping hurricane survivors at a makeshift distribution facility here.

“Some people were grumpy on the way down,” admitted Sgt. Dan Bittaker of North Canton, who serves with the 838th Military Police Company out of Youngstown. “The process takes a long time.”

The two dozen troops who are working here rolled into their new base at Camp Shelby, Miss., on Sunday and caught a few hours sleep. Then they were at an American Legion post Monday near rural Kiln, where they put in a full day unloading supplies from semis and distributing food, water, ice, diapers, baby bottles, toys, crayons and other supplies to hurricane victims who drove in to pick them up.

“I’m just glad that we get to do something helpful,” said Bittaker, a painter who is studying to be a minister.

Pine trees, several of them knocked down by the storm, surround the pale blue legion hall in this wooded area some 20 miles north of the coast. The post is serving as a supply distribution point for hurricane survivors as part of a larger relief effort that includes hundreds of shelters, feeding stations and other facilities set up in several southern states.

While the legion post opened as a relief center within days after the hurricane, Monday marked the first day it was fully in operation.

“We’re down here for a good cause, helping people out,” said Pfc. Eric Wonner of Alliance, one of several Stark County-area soldiers serving with the unit. “It is pretty hot out working in this heat,” he added.

As he spoke, area residents pulled up in vehicles ranging from slick sports utility vehicles to pickups that looked like they had survived more than a few rough summers in the Mississippi heat.

The troops said many who have stopped to get supplies appear to be living together in extended families after their homes were destroyed.

Shawn Hilton, a mechanic from Bay St. Louis, lost everything except his big Ford pickup and tools when the hurricane leveled his house.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Hilton, who was joined in the front seat by his friend, Tessa Gambile, his daughter and another girl. “Day by day, we’ve put our last dollars into gas.”

At the legion, they loaded up with ice, water, Gatorade and hygiene supplies.

Adeline Malley of Kiln, whose previous house was destroyed by hurricane Camille in 1969, only took ice.

“There’s so many people who need more than we do,” she said, noting that her house escaped with little damage this time around. She lost three barns and all four mobile homes she rented, however.

The trailers were uninsured.

“My husband passed away last June,” she said, two grandchildren in the car with her. “He had cancer. I just couldn’t afford to keep insurance.”

Like others here, Bittaker has been impressed with the Mississippi attitude.

“The people are really grateful. I haven’t run into many cases where I think people are being greedy,” he added. “ ‘We only need that much,’ they say.”

Added Sgt. Brian Fowler of Hartville, “People shake your hands, tell you you are doing a good job. We appreciate that.”