Valor — great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle — is a word often associated with military veterans. They are appreciated by most U.S. citizens who recognize the centuries of historical significance to obtain and preserve the freedoms experienced by residents and visitors to the nation often called America — even though the United States is only a part of the two continents sharing the same word.
Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. It is not the only day of the year when veterans are recognized and applauded. As more of the “Greatest Generation” fade away, those who fought in World War II, a concerted effort to remember the sacrifice of men and women as well as their families stateside, has brought a fluid awareness of patriotic pride and appreciation for military service.
Anyone who has been a Boy or Girl Scout is familiar with the meaning behind, “Scout’s Honor.” So, too, is the code of military honor going beyond the ranks of active members of the Armed Services. It is a respect for one another that is instilled during basic training and lasts a lifetime. Whether or not someone has served, the respect is heartfelt by those who understand the responsibilities of the military in times of war and peace — though often in a fast-paced world, stopping to pay homage takes a back seat to other activities.
Today at 6 p.m. the Iberia Veterans Association will again be honoring Veteran’s Day with a patriotic tribute at Bouligny Plaza in downtown New Iberia. One of several veteran organizations in the Teche Area, the faithful few maintain a regular calendar of events including programs for Armed Forces, Memorial, Flag Day, 4th of July, Purple Heart & POW-MIA Day, Patriot and Pearl Harbor Days.
The group’s efforts to erect a fallen heroes monument and veteran memorial bricks has not materialized but is an ongoing focus for the organization. Although spear headed by the IVA, the memorial is intended to be comprehensive to include all military branches as well as other veteran organizations.
During the recent Louisiana State University versus the University of Alabama football game, four LSU graduates were inducted into the Hall of Honor for LSU Distinguished Military Alumni including Jeanerette resident retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert L. Freshley Sr. The induction ceremony took place on the morning of Nov. 3 at the LSU War Memorial on the Parade Ground and the honorees were introduced to the Tiger Stadium crowd during the pre-game activities later that night. A luncheon was held the day before with keynote speaker Rear Admiral Craig A. Clapperton, Deputy Director for Future Operations, U.S. Cyber Command. Congressman Garret N. Graves was guest speaker at a dinner Thursday evening, a fitting tribute to honored veterans.
The past four years, a group of veterans and non-veterans have taken the lead in supporting retired and active military experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. David Defelice learned of the Wounded War Heroes organization and joined their efforts to support veterans working through an assortment of challenges following their service to the nation. Founded to show appreciation to men and women who have been wounded while in combat, the members provide therapeutic outdoor experiences with the sole purpose to show veterans they are not forgotten.
Each year Collette “Coots” Foret, the Louisiana coordinator, sends personal invitations to a select group of veterans with PTSD to spend the weekend at Cypremort Point fishing and fellowshipping with other veterans and nonmilitary volunteers.
“I would like to thank those who first jumped on the bandwagon with me that made the WWH Fishing Weekend a success. My wife, Susan, Tommy and Arlene Granger as cochairs, Troy Green, master chef, Austin Green and Mitch Romero, sous chefs, and Don Naquin, Casey and Neil Carret, weigh masters,” Defelice said. “In addition to these volunteers, it would be hard to hold a fishing tournament without boat captains. The great fishermen in and around Vermilion Bay include Michael Defelice, Malcolm Migues, Keith Delahoussaye, Mark and Check Duhon, T-Blu Landry, Kao Khamphilavong, Clay Peltier, Andre and Rene St. Upery and George Segura. Also, thanks to Dan Doerle for supplying our veterans with bait shrimp.”
Defelice sent out a special thanks to all who made donations covering expenses to this special event including Mark Patout and the Shea family who were extremely generous for donating their hospitality and camps to these fine veterans. The tournament is held annually in August, though dates may vary in 2019.
More than Coffee
Gathering of veterans is a regular occurrence at Victor’s Cafeteria every Wednesday morning for breakfast. A fluctuating number that has dwindled in the past, has grown to as many as 30 veterans from all branches and war times, the majority now being from the Vietnam conflict. John Aldridge, commandant for the American Legion Post 4 said they don’t sit around talking about the war but might discuss politics, as well as number of mutual interests. The bond between military veterans is one that cannot be duplicated or imitated, an unspoken understanding bridges age, race and rank among veterans.
Physical wounds can heal easily, however the minds of some Vietnam veterans are scared not from battles across the sea but rather returning home to the hatred of stateside residents who disapproved of the military intervention in that nation. With the decrease in the number of World War II veterans, the elders are now from the Korean War and Vietnam. Although negative sentiment toward these soldiers have softened through the years, continued affirmation and appreciation for their call to duty will only set them free with time to heal these emotional scars.
Covering veterans with warmth takes a materialistic approach with several groups in the Teche Area. The knitting members of First United Methodist Church often contribute afghans to veterans and the Beribees Quilting group annually give handmade quilts to selected soldiers who served in active duty. This year the group went above and beyond by making special “Quilts of Valor” for the regular breakfast bunch at Victor’s. More than 25 quilts have been constructed for this year’s recipients.
From time to time, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution honoring veterans committee picks up the tab for the retired soldiers eating at Victor’s. With such gifts of appreciation, is it any wonder their numbers have grown throughout 2018?
Keeping Track of Veterans
Locating Teche Area veterans is no simple task. Vonda Banks, the new assistance counselor with the Louisiana Department of Veterans Administration said unless someone has come in for assistance for any number of issues, they don’t have a record of former service men and women.
A veteran herself, Banks said since she started working in July at the New Iberia branch of the state office, she has been unable to identify all of the different veteran groups in the area. She requested that anyone in charge of a support group through the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign War Posts or any other organization catering to veterans to contact her at the West Pershing Street office or call 373-0001.
Banks also said veterans often confuse the state office with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The LDVA is a resource for veterans but they are not linked into the national military database and therefore are unable to search those records. They work in cooperation with other divisions of state and federal government to assist veterans, but they are a state and not federal agency. For more information or assistance as a veteran, contact Banks.