98-year-old WWII tour guide doesn’t show signs of slowing down

You can hear the passion in Jack Madison's voice when talking about Mississippi’s Coast. (Source: WLOX)
Published: Jul. 12, 2023 at 1:28 PM EDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX/Gray News) – Jack Madison celebrated his 98th birthday Tuesday, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The World War II veteran keeps himself busy by giving tours of Ship Island in Biloxi, Mississippi.

He has seen a lot of history unfold through his near century of existence, and he is bringing that to life with his tours.

“This is what I like about history, if you dig a little bit, you can find all kinds of interesting facts,” Madison said while giving a recent tour.

Visitors listen to the story unfolding from the island’s discovery and its role in the War of 1812, to the construction of Fort Massachusetts just before the Civil War.

You can hear the passion in Madison’s voice when talking about Mississippi’s Coast.

“When I was growing up, you know where I was, I was out here on the islands,” Madison said. “I was lucky enough to have a father and grandfather who both loved to fish. We had a boat, so you can guess where we were.”

He said he still feels at home there and will continue giving tours of the place he loves so much.

Using personal connections and historical references, Madison builds the message with his audience, and his tours leave a lasting impression on visitors like Allen Baker from Gulfport.

“His knowledge of this place and the time period it represents is encyclopedic and quite a resource for South Mississippi,” Baker said.

After his military service, Madison worked in different locations around the country and spent much of his spare time visiting and camping in National Parks.

When he moved back to his hometown of Biloxi, he signed up to be a volunteer with the Park Service, which led to the tours.

“I felt I had an obligation. I was indebted to the parks. I wanted to pay back part of that indebtedness that I had, and I wanted to share some of my time so maybe it would help the park,” Madison said. “So that’s what I’ve done.”

Even after so many years, Madison still finds a way to make each tour unique.

“I have a high from completing tours out here that I felt like I was doing something positive and sharing with other people,” Madison said. “It makes me have a very satisfactory condition.”

One of Madison’s favorite parts of every tour is sharing a letter written in 1861 by the Confederate commanding officer of Fort Massachusetts before retreating.

The message at the time was left for the incoming Union forces, and with Madison reading it, it paints a picture of the admiration for the island both then and now.

Madison gives tours of Ship Island every Thursday.