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Rhonda Dunaway

First Female Mississippian to die on Battlefield Honored at Mississippi Armed Forces Museum


First Female Mississippian to die on Battlefield Honored at Mississippi Armed Forces Museum

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This bronzed statue was sculpted by a veteran marine of the Vietnam war, Cliff Leonard.
PHOTO BY: Rhonda Dunaway

Marine Lance Corporal Casey Casanova was just 22 in 2008 when she was killed by a road side bomb while on patrol with her unit. Her loss shocked and saddened her community. She'd attended Southwest Mississippi Community College on a music scholarship, and she was a member of East McComb Baptist Church. She is described by friends and family as being gregarious - charismatic, as having a beautiful singing voice, and a bubbly personality.

The museum’s curator, Tommy Lofton, said that his team discovered something as they were putting her display together in the museum - she was the first female in Mississippi's history to die in battle.

"As we prepared this exhibit, we tried very hard to find someone before her,” Lofton said to a standing room only crowd at the museum’s banquet hall, “but we are pretty convinced that she is the first female in Mississippi history to die on the battlefield. So, we are proud to have her here for that notoriety as well,"

Sculptor Cliff Leonard, a veteran marine of Vietnam, volunteers his time and efforts to honor fallen soldiers and their families by creating life-sized busts. On a trip to Mississippi he'd learned about the Marine Lance Corporal and took her memory on as his next project. At the event Leonard gave a speech about his process and how he gets to know his subject pretty well – staring at their 3-D replica, he explained that their life-like sculptures inspire him as they come to life in the clay. He explained that he formed Casanova’s pose into one called the “eyes-right” position:

"In the military, when you pass in review and the dignitaries are looking at you,” Leonard said, “[...]a command of 'eyes right' will be given, that eyes right command is a salute to the dignitaries[...] so I have Casey in an 'eyes-right' position[...]as it states in our marine corps hymn[...]to be guarding the streets of heaven."

Thursday was the Marine Corps' birthday. The military branch celebrates 247 years.