One of the first scenes I remember from Biloxi was chasing my panicked sister down the beach as she ran with a small sand crab attached to her toe. Little did I know then that Biloxi would become a place dear to my heart and my life…
In 1979, the Air Force sent me to Biloxi for six months to learn how to repair satellite communications equipment. By that time, I had been in the service thirteen years and this was a major change in career fields. I was slightly challenged by the prospect and somewhat awed that I was the oldest in my class, which was composed of mostly high math achieving teenagers. As class leader – based on rank – I became a dad, an uncle, and I think – at least to one – a grandpa. I was included in their parties – many accompanied by bonfires on the beach near the historic Biloxi Lighthouse. During that time, I learned Biloxi well enough to appreciate its charm and its history. The biggest memory I retain of Biloxi was the smell of the sea – and – fish. At that time Biloxi's economy was driven by the seafood industry. Each year at the Blessing of the Fleet the local Roman Catholic Bishop in full regalia would float out into the bay to give his blessing to the gathered fleet of shrimp boat fisherman who made their living in the Gulf of Mexico.
While learning electronics in Biloxi, I met a woman who would later become my wife. She had three children, so when she and I married I had a ready-made family later to become an expanded family when we sponsored her brother-in-law, sister and her three nieces from a Vietnamese refugee camp in Malaysia to Biloxi. (see The Story of Do Van Khoai
Shortly after our wedding, I was reassigned and our little family moved to Alabama. My wife's family stayed in Biloxi and this resulted in many visits to that fair city over the years. I watched my three nieces succeed in high school and excel in college. All became self-sufficient acquiring their piece of the American Dream. My own children with their Biloxi heritage did just as well. Biloxi became a place for family gatherings and later, weddings,
Time never stops moving forward and years later my civilian job as a recruiter in the trucking industry brings me to Biloxi-Gulfport on a regular basis. Massive changes are taking place in both those cities brought about by a new state gambling law. Barge based casinos start showing up everywhere. Biloxi becomes a Mecca for gamblers. Vietnamese and native shrimpers are now dealers and pit bosses. That change was somewhat sad to me because I enjoyed Biloxi when her most memorable feature was the smell of the sea and the aroma of seafood in nearby restaurants.
Nevertheless, despite the changes, over the years, Biloxi has retained a special place in my heart and I'm sure in the hearts of my family who were nurtured there. So it is with profound sadness I have watched the almost total destruction of Biloxi by Hurricane Katrina over the past few days.
Casinos, the remaining fisherman's shotgun houses, and grand mansions have all been leveled by the massive storm surge of the Gulf of Mexico. There is nothing left. The scenes on TV are very reminiscent of the recent Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It is too early to speak of the death toll, which I'm sure, will be massive. As of press time, Do Von Khoai and his wife, Mang are unreachable although there is no doubt – due to their proximity to the sea that their home is destroyed.
I am generally not a pessimist, but from what I've seen in the past few hours, I have no doubt that I will never see my beloved Biloxi again…
Update: Biloxi, September 2, 2005, Do Van Khoai and his wife Mang called their daughter Christina in Houston to report they were safe. They had been sheltered at Biloxi High School. They had use of their vehicle and were able to visit their home which had been washed off its foundation and was located several yards away. They were able to go into the home and retrieve valuables. Tomorrow morning they will be met by two son-in-laws at the Biloxi Walmart who will transport them to Fredericksburg, Virginia and their
new home - at least temporarily.