Two days after the St. Charles Parish Council tabled a $777,469 construction contract for a memorial park on request by military veterans, the parish canceled its longstanding Veterans Day luncheon.
“It’s kind of suspicious it was canceled after we voiced our opinion about the memorial park and kind of halted the project,” said VFW Post 3750 Commander Bobby Lovergne.
Parish President Larry Cochran said the luncheon was canceled because of declining attendance.
“St. Charles Parish is proud to honor our veterans for their service and sacrifices made to protect our nation and our freedom,” Cochran said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Veterans Day luncheon participation drastically declined so we will not be holding this particular event this year. However, there will be a ceremony hosted by veterans groups held on the courthouse lawn on Veterans Day and we encourage the residents of St. Charles to attend.”
When Lovergne appealed to Cochran about the canceled luncheon by email, Cochran replied, also by email, that the luncheon was canceled because participation had “drastically declined with less than a hundred guests in attendance last year.”
Lovergne agreed attendance had fallen in recent years, but he believes it was mainly due to the event not being publicized. He also said last year’s luncheon drew more than 100 people, which he knew firsthand as its guest speaker.
Calling it “retaliation,” Councilman Paul Hogan said he could not get council support to hold a special meeting to require the luncheon be held on Nov. 7.
“Even if one person shows up, that event should be held,” Hogan said. “In my opinion, the event was canceled in retaliation with what Mr. Lovergne said Monday night with the proposed memorial park in front of the courthouse.”
Councilman Billy Woodruff said he also asked Cochran to hold the luncheon.
“They canceled it,” Woodruff said. “I think it’s wrong. They should have had it. I’m for the veterans.”
Also questioning the timing of the decision, Woodruff said he disagreed with Cochran’s justification for canceling the luncheon, which is a sponsored event.
“I don’t care if 10 guys show up, they deserve a lunch,” Woodruff said. “You can’t say this is going to cost us money other than use of the community center. These guys spent several years away from home and family serving our country. The least we can do is give them a luncheon.”
Lovergne said the area’s veterans have accepted the fact the luncheon is not happening this year, but he emphasized it’ll be back “bigger and better” next year.
“Many of the older WWII and Korean War veterans do not get out that much and this gives them something to look forward to,” he added.
Initiated under former Parish President V.J. St. Pierre, the veterans luncheon has been held nearly 10 years.
Lovergne was among the post commanders and veterans who got approval to delay the veteran’s memorial park project at the council’s Oct. 21 meeting. They maintained they’d had one preliminary planning meeting with parish officials in March of 2017, and did not have enough input on the project.
They asked that it be tabled so that a committee could be chosen to help plan the project.
The plan pitched last month called for upgrading the front lawn of the St. Charles Parish Courthouse and building a veteran’s memorial there. Under St. Pierre’s plan, the memorial and community park was going on the grounds of the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center in Luling.