A highlight of the Plaquemine July 4 Hometown Celebration is the boat parade, led by the event grand marshals, and the ceremony honoring both the grand marshals and all veterans.
Veterans selected as grand marshals of this year’s celebration include Karen Askins, Robert J. Landry, Nick Louis, Lyman “Lonnie” Marchand, Lonnie Michel, Ronald Porch, Harry Vercher, and Roy Zito, Jr.
Following is a synopsis of the military service of the final four grand marshals. The first four were published in the July 22, 2017 edition of the Post South.
ROBERT J. LANDRY – Landry joined the U.S. Air Force at the young age of 20, and ended up repairing, inspecting and loading bombs on large bomber planes during the Vietnam War. He spent the first three years of his service in Texas, working on aircraft maintenance.
He and his wife, Ruth, had just had their first child when he was called to the Philippines, and then to Vietnam. Landry spent three months in the Philippines, where he inspected airplanes before flights. But it was the nine months at the large air base at Ben Hoa, Vietnam that was the most difficult.
“We stayed in huts, with four men in about the space of a dining room table,” he said. There were about 50 men in a hut. We had no hot water, no air conditioning or fans, and it was very close quarters. Bombs went off around us all the time, so we were always on edge.”
A lot of planes flew in and out of that base, which was protected by the U.S. Army troops surrounding the base. He had training on M-16 riffles, but his job was to inspect spy, bomber and other planes, and help load bombs on the bomber planes. “It was tough, the food was bad,” he said. “The flour had bugs in it, but it was the only thing to eat.”
In September of 1966, his grandmother died, and he was allowed to go home, but by the time he reached California his grandmother’s funeral had been held, so he was reassigned to England Air Force Base in Alexandria to finish out his four-year stint. He was discharged with the rank of Airman First Class E-4. “The friendships we made were the best part of being in the military,” he said. “Some have become life-long friends.”
LYMAN “LONNIE” MARCHAND – Marchand was only 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Navy right out of high school. The year was 1960 and he started out with boot camp in San Diego, and then went to fire control technician school in Maryland. Marchand was then stationed on the USS Henley, a DD 762 destroyer ship, which was deployed around Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Mediterranean during the Laotian Conflict.
Since a fire control technician was not needed on the ship, he became a gunner’s mate. “We had a lot of shooting practice, and guarded the aircraft carriers USS Independence and USS Enterprise,” he said. He ended his service with the rank of Navy Seaman E-3.
While Marchand got to see many countries in the Mediterranean, he also spent long stints at sea on the ship. “We had about 300 people on board, so you get to know everyone and get close to people,” he said. “We’d spend 40 days at sea before hitting a port. I liked the military, but I missed my family. The worst part was being away from family.”
Coming home at only age 21, Marchand ended up getting trained in pipefitting, and worked at Dow Chemical for 30 years.
LONNIE MICHEL: Michel joined the U.S. Air Force in 1963, and held one of the most stressful jobs that exist - an air traffic controller for the military at major airports in the U.S. and Thailand.
Michel was only 18 years old when he joined the Air Force, getting his training in air traffic control at Keesler Air Force Base, and then transferring to Webb Air Force Base in Texas. He spent 18 months there and then was transferred to Bangkok International Airport in Thailand.
The international airport was huge, and included both the commercial and military airport facilities. “We had an airplane arrival or departure every 30 seconds from daylight to dark. It was comparable to the Chicago airport, and when the weather was bad we took over all air control for all planes,” Michel said. “The military planes that flew out of this airport were on missions in and out of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.”
Although he liked meeting people of different cultures and nationalities, the stress of his work was intense. “It was very stressful because those planes had large numbers of soldiers and other people on board and we had a lot of lives on the line with our work all day, every day.” He said they lived in a hotel in Bangkok while stationed there. “There were over 3 million people in Bangkok then,” he said.
Michel received the Vietnam Service Medal, Air Traffic Controller, Radar and Control Tower Operations, and Southeast Asia Service Medals for his service. He served a total of six years – four on active duty and two years in the Air Force Reserve.
RONALD M. PORCH: Porch joined the U.S. Army in 1975 at the age of 20 years old. “There weren’t a lot of jobs around here, so I joined the Army,” he said. His basic training was at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina, and from there he went to Ft. Benjamin in Indiana for training in personnel management. Once he completed that training, he was transferred to Ft. Carson in Colorado, where he spent almost two years.
“I did personnel management the entire time I was in the military,” he said. “I was transferred to Landstuhl, Germany and stayed there until I was discharged in 1978. “I worked at a military hospital there. Fortunately, I was never in a war. Germany was a lovely place – very clean,” he said. “I liked the traveling and the fellowship,” Porch said. “I got to see a lot and met a lot of people.” He ended his service with the rank of Specialist-4.
When he returned to Plaquemine, he worked for a year with the National Guard unit in Plaquemine, and then got a job with the U.S. Postal Service, where he worked for 30 years.