If you walk along Shore Boulevard in Gulfport beside the volleyball courts, you’ll see a series of round plaques dubbed the Champions Walk of Fame embedded close to the ground by the sidewalk. The first in the series shows the smiling face of Army Maj. David G. Taylor, whose death in October 2006 in Iraq launched what has now become an annual Veterans Day event in Gulfport – the VETSports volleyball tournament.
The official ribbon cutting for the plaques – with ceremonial scissors wielded by the young son of the fallen soldier – was one of the highlights of this year’s Veterans Day celebrations Saturday, November 11 in Gulfport, along with the Veterans Day Parade and the tournament.
Jake Taylor, 11, cut the yellow ribbon and removed the fabric covering the plaques as city officials, athletes and onlookers clapped and took photos. Shortly after, at the tournament’s opening ceremonies, Maj. Taylor’s widow Michele told those assembled how her son had grown up attending VETSports events in Gulfport and how grateful they were to the city and the organization.
She noted how now they would be able to see Maj. Taylor, whose grave is in his native North Carolina, smiling and waving every time they come to Gulfport. The likeness in the plaque comes from a photo taken the last time they saw him as he leaned into their car to say goodbye before his final deployment.
“If he were looking out here,” she told the assembly, “I know he’d be smiling.”
Each of the five other plaques in the walk carry the names of the winners of each year’s tournament.
Jake was four months old when Maj. Taylor died, said Gulfport City Councimember Dan Liedtke, who was instrumental in bringing VETSports to Gulfport. The tournament was started in 2012, he said, “to honor Maj. Taylor and his sacrifice.”
This year’s tournament included representatives of every branch of the military service, including a number from out of state, he said.
VETSports is a national non-profit founded by three combat Veterans in 2012 to help improve veterans’ physical, mental and emotional health through sports, physical activity and community involvement, according to its website.