Veterans Memorial opening emotional for some, welcomed by all

A tearful V.J. St. Pierre bared his soul for the many gathered for a momentous occasion last week in Luling.

“I never thought I’d live to see this,” St. Pierre said, “but I’m standing here … I’m very proud, and I’m overwhelmed.”

The former St. Charles Parish President and Vietnam veteran saw a dream come to life as parish leadership and residents celebrated the opening of its Veterans Memorial Plaza at the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center. The plaza will serve as a host for all Veterans Day ceremonies and other tributes to the Armed Forces in the parish and honors living veterans, those who have passed and the families of veterans.

The plaza represents the culmination of a project that has been in the works through three parish administrations, starting with that of St. Pierre who felt strongly that St. Charles Parish needed a place where people could gather, honor and remember its many great veterans.

“People would ask me, ‘V.J., why is this so important?’ It’s so important for many reasons,” he said. “It’s a tribute for the many men and women who served our country. It’s a recognition of their sacrifice and dedication and a symbol of our appreciation. It serves as a reminder that we must never forget the cost of war and that our freedom has been hard won and at great cost. And it serves as a source of inspiration for future generations.”

He recalled that when the first Veterans Appreciation Day of his tenure was held, only 10 people attended. But on this day, numerous residents – including veterans of all military branches were on hand to show support. Parish President Matthew Jewell introduced several guest speakers prior to the day’s ribbon cutting. The U.S. Marine Corps Band played the U.S. Armed Forces Medley as veterans of each branch stood to receive recognition.

Jewell said this day was a very proud one for St. Charles Parish. He quoted John F. Kennedy who once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

“Today, we are not just uttering words of gratitude. We are living by our commitment to the veterans of St. Charles Parish and we’ve created a place to memorialize those who laid down their lives to preserve our freedoms,” Jewell said, also calling the memorial plaza “a testament to their unwavering commitment and a way for us to honor our veterans and remember their service.”

The venue honors five branches of the Armed Forces with granite statues. It houses just the second Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in the state of Louisiana, providing a place of permanence for Gold Star Families to gather.

The term Gold Star family is a modern reference that comes from the Service Flag. These flags or banners were first flown by families during World War I. The flag included a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces of the United States, during any period of war or hostilities in which the armed forces of the United States were engaged. If that loved one died, the blue star was replaced by a gold star. This allowed members of the community to know the price that the family had paid in the cause of freedom.

Gold Star Spouses Day is recognized every April 5 – fittingly, the day of the memorial plaza ribbon cutting.

The family of Lance Cpl. Lyndon Hue of Des Allemands was one of the major contributors to making the plaza a reality. Hue, a Marine Corps. veteran, was killed in the terrorist bombing in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. Hue’s sister, Jill Stoltz, was among the featured guest speakers on the day. Hue was one of eight siblings and he and Stoltz’s family was a military one, with their father a Korean War veteran as well.

“I can’t even tell you how overwhelmed and honored I am and what this means to us as a family,” she said. “The value of this tribute is priceless … for us, the house we grew up in … it no longer exists, it’s a lot in Des Allemands. This is our legacy … our way of paying it forward.”

Also among guest speakers were parish councilwoman Marilyn Bellock and councilman Nicky Dufrene. Bellock is a Coast Guard veteran while Dufresne served in the Army and is a Desert Storm and Desert Shield veteran.

“(Members of the military) represent every corner of our country and every shade of humanity, all forged into one common service … myself being a veteran, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Bellock said.

Dufrene spotlighted families of veterans.

“To me, we need to be proud of and celebrate veteran families. When you’re in the military, you know where you are at night, you know where you’re sleeping, but (family members) don’t,” he said.

When St. Pierre stepped before the microphone, he gave a heartfelt speech that few, if anyone, will soon forget.

A Purple Heart recipient, St. Pierre recollected the emotional time he experienced when visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and finding the names of his fellow platoon members on the wall. St. Pierre was shot and wounded on May 14, 1968, a day three soldiers close with him were killed.

“I realized that only through the grace of God that my name isn’t on that wall,” St. Pierre said.

He said he cried through memories that flooded back of his fellow soldiers and, while doing so, was comforted by a woman who approached him.

“I felt a hand on my shoulder and she told me, ‘it’s OK. It’s OK. I understand,’” St. Pierre said, noting he realized when he looked for her a few minutes later to thank her, she was nowhere to be found.

“When I looked back, I realized … that was an angel that God sent me to get through that moment,” he said.

“We don’t go to war because we love to fight. (Soldiers) go for something greater than themselves and because they want to protect their nation,” St. Pierre said.


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1 Comment

  1. I am very happy that LCpl Hue was remembered by more than his family. I served with him in Iceland for a year. We drank together and shared sone meals. Trained and looked forward to mail with a letter from home. We weren’t the best of friends but we were Marines and that was enough. Rest in Peace, Semper Fi.

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