At the south end of St. Charles Parish, just before Highway 90 crosses over into Lafourche Parish, a little known Veterans Memorial stands in front of St. Gertrude Catholic Church.
The memorial is a hexagon-shaped structure surrounded by bricks, three concrete benches where visitors can sit and a ring of flower beds planted and maintained by local residents. The memorial stands around six feet tall with black granite plaques etched with familiar names such as Matherne, Dufrene and Loupe as well as those of others who fought on behalf of the country. A wooden eagle is perched atop the structure and out in front are two flagpoles–one carrying the flag of the United States and the other a prisoner of war/missing in action flag.
Pam Negroto, a deputy sheriff who helps maintain the monument, said it is unique.
“This is the only monument I can think of that as people pass away their names are added,” Negroto said.
The names of any West Bank veteran are added as they become known to the Routine Officer Training Corps class at Hahnville High School that holds a memorial service on Veterans Day each year.
“If it wasn’t for this, these guys would have been forgotten,” Negroto said. “For me it is a peaceful moment just to sit there and have the flag fly over head and to hear it flapping in the wind.”
The originator of the memorial prefers to remain anonymous. He said it is not about him, but about those who have fought wars on behalf of the country.
“I don’t want any credit, I don’t want my name mentioned. I just drive by and recognize that I helped build it and that is enough,” he said. “It was something that had to be done so I did it.”
The idea for the monument came to him in 2001 when he and a friend were visiting the graves of family members who served in past wars.
“My two brothers were buried almost one on top of the other,” he said. “You didn’t know that they had served unless you go to the cemetery and look at the plaques.”
He said he still remembers the day one of his brothers returned home from the Korean War unannounced, almost as if it were just a normal event.
“I can remember my brother walking in with his big bag,” he said. “He had been gone for almost four years.”
He decided to organize a ceremony that was held that year.
A general spoke, three F-16 fighter planes flew over the cemetery and the local fire departments sprayed arcs of red, white and blue dyed water over the area.
After the success of the ceremony, the man decided to begin fundraising to create a permanent public memorial dedicated to the memory of West Bank veterans.
“I’d go hit River Road and hit all the places from Ama to Taft. I put about 2,000 miles on my truck driving the parish looking for donations,” the man said. “I’d go out sometimes 10-12 hours per day.”
Over a four-year period, thousands of dollars were raised in sometimes ingenious ways, such as harvesting a cypress log and carving it into a pirogue that was raffled off at a festival.
“We had to raise the money somehow – $38,000 is not just going to drop off the table,” the man said.
Donations even came from outside the parish when a group of Raceland Wal-Mart employees in Lafourche Parish coordinated cupcake sales that added $3,000 to the effort. Just as the group needed it the most, Otto Candies wrote them a check for $6,000 to finalize the project.
The monument was finally dedicated on May 28, 2005.
“I had a lot of help and those are the people that deserve the credit,” the man said.
In the seven years that have passed since its dedication, the man said many people have forgotten about its importance and that last year’s turnout for the memorial, which added four names to monument, was a disappointment.
“The last memorial was not very well attended,” Negroto said.
The man said he feels parish residents are neglecting the memory of those who have served.
“To me that hurts when you come out with a cassette player and you are going to have to have the ROTC read the names. It is disappointing,” he said. “These people are laying down there in the cemetery. It is a slap in the face.”
He said he would like to see more people pay attention to the sacrifices made by locals who have served in the military.
“I think that it is worth it now that everything is over with. It’s a compliment to the soldiers who went to war and didn’t come back,” he said. “People don’t realize what we are trying to do there.”
To add names to the monument or help with maintenance, contact the R.O.T.C. at Hahnville High School at (985) 758-1234 or Suzanne Loupe at (985) 758-2713.