World War II veterans honored in Ama

Irving Pierre Sr. at American Legion event honoring he and fellow World War II veteran William Becknel Sr. (Photos by Ellis Alexander)

Brave freedom fighters and trailblazers alike, William Becknel and Irving Pierre are proud veterans of World War II – and recently, friends, family and servicemen alike showed the great pride they have in them, as well.

The two men were honored at a banquet held at the Friloux-Robinson American Legion Post 509 headquarters in Ama. Becknel and Pierre are charter members of the Post and established its location, acquiring the property and converting a once-grocery store into the present Legion Hall. They are the Post’s last two surviving World War II veterans, and those behind the event wanted them to know that the great price the men paid for their country has not and will not ever be forgotten.

“It started as we were planning on holding an event for Black History Month,” said Ed Blouin, Commander of American Legion 509. “And with these men being our two remaining World War II veterans, and also our last two charter members, we decided to honor them. We always honor our veterans when they die, thank them for their service … we wanted to honor (Becknel and Pierre) while they’re still here with us.”

The invocation was given by The American Legion, Dept. of Louisiana Chaplain Gerald Theriot, and the guest speaker was The American Legion, Dept. of Louisiana Commander Richard Bell. Becknel and Pierre were each presented with a proclamation from Commander Bell, honoring each for their service during World War II.

William Becknel Sr.

Becknel, 96, was inducted into the Air Force in October of 1942 and received numerous decorations, including the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign with one bronze star for his service during World War II. He was honorably discharged on July 12, 1951.

Pierre, 98, was inducted into the Air Force in July of 1943 and, like Becknell, had numerous decorations to his name, including the European-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign with two bronze stars for his time in northern France. He was discharged honorably in November of 1945.

The second World War lasted from 1939 to 1945, beginning with Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1 of 1939. By its end, it directly involved more than 100 million personnel from more than 30 countries, and it was by far the deadliest conflict in human history, with as many as 85 million fatalities coming as result. The war shifted the world in countless ways politically, economically and socially.

Members of the veterans’ family spoke, as well as their friends. Blouin also spoke in tribute to them, and gave some insight as to why the day carried extra special meaning for him.

“I’m a Vietnam veteran, and I know how it is to be away from home for a year at a time, praying every day that you’ll get back home,” Blouin said. “I told a story about how I came back … I got to stay home a little while. I put on my uniform and went to church. And nobody welcomed me back, and nobody thanked me for my service.”

Blouin said he almost teared up as he was recalling the emotional memory.

“I can’t ever forget that,” he said. “And I told them, as bad as that was, it’s nothing compared to what Mr. Becknel and Mr. Pierre went through. They fought for freedom overseas, and they came home into desegregation. That was even worse.”

Despite returning victorious in World War II, there was no universal thank you for the black veterans returning home to an ongoing struggle to achieve social justice during the civil rights movement.

“They were very influential to putting the Post together after the war,” said Percy Wilson of Post 509. “They bought a building back in the early 90s and put this all together. They had to build on it, paint, put concrete in, and they were a huge part of all of that. They deserve to be recognized.”

 

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