Fewer and fewer U.S. Military Veterans from World War II are in attendance standing to be honored at patriotic programs like the Independence Day Stars and Stripes Acadiana Symphony Concert in July. How many will attend Monday’s Veteran’s Day remembrance event at Bouligny Plaza? For that matter, how many active duty or recently inactive veterans from all six branches will stand up to their place of honor?
A Place of Honor
For the past seven years, the Iberia Veterans Association has been soldiering on to build a memorial to the veterans from Iberia Parish who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Headed by Bennie Schovajsa and Leslie Landry, the duo and their comrades have spoken at civic meetings, visited with government leaders and organizations, consulted artisans and talked about the potential for building a monument in the firepit at Bouligny Plaza behind the time capsule and flag poles. Less than 250 bricks have been sold to honor the veterans number more than 4,000 in the parish. The endless battle to remember the generations that have gone before, as well as those now serving in the U.S. Armed Forces has barely begun. The effort is needing a shot of adrenalin.
Conversations with leaders and supporters who would like to see a memorial built in New Iberia have brought today’s report and an invitation to participate. Anyone interested in advancing the progress for a memorial is invited to the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce conference room at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 18. The Main Street office is provided as a room for a focus group to be formed to assist the efforts of the veterans that have labored to honor fellow soldiers and the still missing in action. The public is invited as well as representatives from organizations and groups with an interest in supporting the idea of honoring military veterans. To reserve a seat for lunch, call 321-6734.
Through the recent months, ideas and recommendations have been presented by the Iberia Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, veterans groups, New Iberia Kiwanis, the Iberia Parish Veterans Organization, and more. The city has been in consultation with IVA and gave this update recently.
“The city agrees to allow the veterans to utilize the area of Bouligny Plaza behind the flag poles and bust of Colonel Bouligny with these remaining in place,” said Mayor Freddie DeCourt through an email message. “Further, the city has applied for capital outlay for the last three years. At this time we are in line for possible funding next year if the project moves up from a two to a five.”
He further stated that if the project were simplified in design/scale, the city public works could assist with in kind work to make the memorial a reality with or without the capital outlay dollars, however the large scale design is too much for city workers to construct.
What Will It Look Like?
A model and schematic drawings have been circulated by Landry, who created the symbolic design currently in consideration. Viewed as an opportunity for reflection and historical reference, each component from the five-point granite star inlaid with words like commitment, courage and other pledges made by soldiers as they dedicate their lives to freedom, to the eagle holding the U.S. Flag pole to keep it from falling, are significant. Students visiting the monument in the future could have a civics lesson with the military branch emblems as well as the plaques of remembrance. For each of the wars fought in the name of freedom, starting with the Spanish American War and ending with the ongoing war on terrorism, a plaque will represent the lost.
Of those asked, not everyone approves of the current design, but rather than silent disapproval, it is time for the community to recognize the reason for the memorial and join together to honor the veterans beginning with a focus meeting.
Iberia Parish President Larry Richard said at last month’s gathering of the Iberia Parish Veterans Organization that he agreed 100 percent that the memorial is something the community should get behind and support, not depend on the veterans themselves to secure the monument construction.
Suggestions from the patriot and veterans committee heads of the DAR have written their recommendations to the IVA and are planning to attend the Nov. 18 focus meeting. Earlier this year as a candidate for Clerk of Court, David Ditch said he would pull a wagon for collections in a parade if people would contribute. Ideas, action and commitment are what it will take to see the memorial materialize.
For Those Who Served
Not all soldiers desire the recognition or attention brought by ceremonies. Some won’t even talk about their experiences with family — better left to be forgotten. But do they really forget or just push aside the mixed emotions that cause slight discomfort or flashes from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Times of gathering for many who wore the uniform are a continuation of the camaraderie that was experienced during active duty. Each Wednesday morning at Victor’s Cafeteria veterans from all branches of service and an assortment of conflicts flow in and out of the diner for coffee or breakfast with other local veterans.
Many veterans who served on U.S. soil often feel that because they did not serve overseas, they are not veterans, said one veteran from Lafayette who was a clerk in the states during the 1960s. He believes honor is reserved for the men and women who fought with guns on foreign soil. But without every staffing position filled, coordinating stateside or in the field, the collective armed forces could not accomplish what they were created to do — honor freedom.
Not all citizens view the military as a necessity and combat the idea of keeping a fully active forces ready for aggression against an enemy of freedom. The question is not about whether a strong military is needed but rather the proof that without one, and defending of the human rights spoken of in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights and the luxury of living with the freedoms in the U.S. would not be found. Fragile as the balance of peace might be, those who have traveled know the difference.
Veterans Day Honors
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website describes the origins of Veterans Day in 1921 as an unknown World War I American soldier who was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France in each nation’s highest place of honor. These memorial gestures took place giving universal recognition to the ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., Nov. 11, 1918 — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, “Armistice Day.”