Natchez Democrat: Family donates jacket to new state history museum

By Cain Maden — NATCHEZ — On Thursday with a smile, Matthew Pearson held up his grandfather’s Korean War jacket, light shining

in on it from the window, for perhaps the last time.

“It’s kind of hard to say goodbye sometimes,” Pearson said as he folded the jacket and walked over to Mississippi

The state is set to open two interconnected museums in Jackson on Dec. 9, one on Mississippi history that would include wars at home and abroad.

Matthew Pearson said during the summer he was scrolling through Facebook, and he saw a post — at the time already a couple weeks old — in which the department was looking for a Korean War jacket for the exhibit.

At that point, Pearson said he reached out to his grandmother Willie Lee Pearson to see if she would be willing to donate her husband’s jacket.

“He said, ‘What do you think about donating Papaw’s jacket?’” Willie Lee Pearson said. “I said, ‘I think that would be just wonderful. It would be just another nice thing that we can do for him (Willie C. Pearson). He would be very proud.”

Matthew Pearson said the jacket was in a suitcase in the attic of his grandparents’ house in Kingston. He said one weekend he went to their house and went through several suitcases before locating the jacket.

“It must have been 200 degrees up there,” Pearson said, laughing. “It’s amazing it held up so well.”

Pearson said he thought the museum would be a better place for it than up in an attic.

“I wanted to do something with it,” Pearson said. “While it is very similar to a WWII jacket, it is a little different as the styles changed over five to 10 years.

“I wanted to be able to share some history with future generations. The museum will take great care of it.”

Prince said she had been on a quest for some time to find a Korean War jacket. She said jackets from Vietnam and Korea had been the toughest to obtain, but that she was happy to have a complete set now.

“We were very excited when he contacted us,” Prince said. “We did not want to open the museum without the Korean War represented.”

Willie Lee Pearson said her husband, who died in April, would be happy with the work his grandson has done to get the jacket donated.

“I think that it is just amazing that we were the ones that were fortunate enough to be able to do this,” she said. “I am sure there are many, many other good veterans out there who would have been proud to do the same thing. I am very honored our family can do this.”

Willie C. Pearson served as a member of the U.S. Army Second Infantry Division, 23rd regiment, Company D.

During the war, Willie C. Pearson was wounded three times, participating in battles including Heartbreak Ridge, the Punch Bowl and Million Dollar Mountain in the rugged countryside of the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s.

Before the war, Willie C. Pearson transferred to Natchez from South Carolina to work at the new International Paper Mill being built. He was at the mill until retiring in 1984.

Willie C. Pearson was instrumental in forming the Adams County Water Association, of which he served as president of the board for 20 years.

“That was one of the best things he ever did because now our area has very, very good water,” Willie Lee Pearson said. “He was just a very humble person and always wanted to do something positive and help those that sometimes could not help themselves.”

Though originally from McComb, Natchez was home, said Willie Lee Pearson.

“We lived in Natchez for 61 years,” she said. “It has been a wonderful place to raise a family and we have some very dear friends left. They will always have a special place in my heart.”

Willie Lee Pearson and her husband moved to Oxford in February to place Willie C. Pearson in the veteran’s home and to be closer to one of their sons.

Matthew Pearson, however, wanted to carry on the Pearson name in Natchez and he and his wife Hilary moved over the summer so he could take a CPA job at accounting firm Silas Simmons.

“Natchez is home,” Matthew Pearson said. “I lived here years ago, and I’ve always loved it.”

The family name will also carry on in Jackson, where Matthew Pearson previously lived and worked. The museum will memorialize Willie C. Pearson. Prince said though the description has not been written yet, it would include at least his name and unit.

Willie Lee Pearson said she and her family are honored.

“This is just a very special thing I never even thought about ever happening,” she said. “He was just a good person. He was always glad to do something for his fellow man. He had a good heart and he cared about people.”

As Matthew Pearson placed his grandfather’s jacket, along with a U.S. Army-issued duffle bag, in the box, Pearson said he had mixed emotions.

“I am a little sad about it but very happy, too,” he said. “I want people to learn from it and see it. I feel like this is the right thing to do.