$5 million school expansion honors Norco Vietnam pilot killed in 9/11 attacks

A $5 million renovation of St. Charles Catholic High School will feature a memorial to a St. Charles Parish-raised Air Force pilot killed while valiantly trying to save a woman during the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.

A 60-foot brick tower will be erected in honor of Robert Hymel. Hymel was a 1964 alumnus of St. Charles Catholic, born in Hahnville and later relocated to Norco.

Hymel flew bomber planes during the Vietnam War. He earned a Purple Heart after surviving a missile attack near Hanoi that took down his plane, killing three of his fellow crew members aboard the B-52 bomber. Hymel’s wife, Pat, said that with a crushed arm and collapsed lung, Hymel was read his last rites.

Doctors were amazed that he survived, but Pat attributed Hymel’s survival to his desire to see his daughter, who was an infant at the time.

Hymel was hospitalized for a year and a half after the crash. He retired from the Air Force in 1993, having received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Shortly after retiring, Hymel became a management analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is located in the Pentagon.

Hymel and his wife moved to Washington D.C. specifically so that Pat, a teacher and school principal, could concentrate on a career without worrying about moving from duty station to duty station.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Hymel was packing his office when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon. It’s believed that Hymel survived the initial impact but died 30 minutes later while attempting to rescue a woman.

He was the sole Air Force casualty.

The Knights of Columbus has adopted the tower memorializing Hymel as their state project.

“This tower will provide a permanent reminder that even out of our darkest moments, like September 11, our United Faith campaign will always enable good to rise up and prevail over evil,” Louis Authement, a member of the St. Charles Catholic board, said.

Hymel’s legacy will now live on, in addition to numerous other improvements planned for St. Charles Catholic. School spokesperson Dr. Courtney Millet said though approval from the Archdiocese of New Orleans was not necessary, it paves the way for the school to move forward on the $5 million plan as soon as the summer.

“It’s a huge deal because we can now begin to engage an architect, do some architectural plans and then go out for bids—so this is all going to start happening rather quickly,” Millet said.

Millet said that despite being located in LaPlace, the high school continues to serve approximately 50 students from St. Charles Parish.

St. Charles Catholic has received few renovations in its 36-year history. The high school moved to the building in LaPlace in 1978 and the latest campaign to raise funding for the renovation is the first such campaign in the building’s history.

Renovations will include a transition from the “blue tin”  exterior to a more efficient and aesthetically pleasing brick façade. Additionally, the school plans to expand the gymnasium, parking lot and common areas. Another $750,000 is planned for technology upgrades and various interior renovations.

The Archdiocese approval also allows the school to borrow portions of the $5 million as necessary, but the school still needs to raise funds to pay off those loans.

“It really shows that [the Archdiocese] sees the value in what we’re doing, they see the value in this education,” Millet said.

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