Veterans to be honored at July 4 Hometown Celebration

Felton Henry

One of the most important parts of Plaquemine’s July 4th Hometown Celebration is honoring local veterans. This year’s eight veteran honorees include 102-year-old Felton Henry, one of few of Iberville’s living World War II veterans; Sidney Babin, Lionel Templet, Ruel Seneca, Sr., Deborah Dickerson, Alma Lineberry, and Mary and Ronald Barnhizer.

The honorees kick off festivities by serving as the grand marshals of the July 4th boat parade. The boat parade begins at 5:30 p.m. in Bayou Plaquemine and ends at the Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park at about 5:50 p.m. They will move to the bayou boardwalk, where they will be honored in a brief ceremony at 6 p.m.

This article features four of the honorees, and next week the other four honorees will be featured.

FELTON HENRY: 102-year-old Felton Henry joined the U.S. Army in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After basic training in Alexandria, Louisiana, he was sent by ship to the Philippines. There he endured front line combat and also the stigma of fellow soldiers as an African American. He described the Philippines as being “filthy” and said they slept under mosquito nets. As for his treatment by white soldiers, he said that was “traumatic.” He was eventually shipped to Japan, and ended up being shipped home in 1945 in what he says was one of the U.S. military’s largest ships.

His military honors were destroyed in a fire at the home of his surrogate granddaughter, Katie Anderson of Plaquemine, several years ago. In May, he received the La. Department of Veterans Affairs Honor Medal, and recognition by the American Legion Post 167. Efforts are being made to replace his lost medals.

Upon returning home he worked at Wilbert’s sawmill, Nadler’s Foundry and Grace Cemetery before retiring.

SIDNEY BABIN: Sidney Babin went into the U.S. Air Force in 1968, and ended up finding his future wife at a base in Abilene, Texas. Babin did a portion of his basic training in Amarillo, Texas, and was transferred to Dias Air Force Base in Abilene, where he served for the remainder of his 3-year stint in the military. “The Korean War was underway, and I had finished Spencer Business College, so I figured I better enter the Air Force or get drafted,” he said.

I worked in supplies my entire time, but I had friends who flew into Korea to bring home dead and wounded soldiers, and they told me how dangerous it was,” he said. He met his wife, Berta, at a YMCA in Abilene. He married her months later, and she moved back to Plaquemine with him after he was discharged in 1970.

The worst thing I experienced was seeing the medi-vac planes bringing in the wounded troops who lost limbs and were in bad shape,” he said. “The best experience was meeting my wife.”

After returning home, he had a varied career, working with the Iberville Sheriff’s Department, in his own business, Babin’s Auto Salvage, with the Plaquemine Police Department, and, now with Wilbert’s Funeral Home.

LIONEL TEMPLET: Lionel Templet served 18 months in the U.S. Army, and that was long enough for him to serve as a guard in consulates in Korea and Japan, and to see the effects of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

I joined in 1946, as an 18-year-old, and was shipped to Texas for basic training, and then to California, then to Korea,” he said. “They told us when we were leaving that we were being shipped to Japan, but our orders changed while we were at sea and we were diverted to Korea.”

Korea was bitterly cold,” he recalled. When transferred to Japan, he recalled spending a Christmas day in Shanghai. His Christmas dinner was navy beans. “The most interesting thing was seeing Hiroshima – shacks on the outskirts of the city, an old railroad tracks that looked like springs from the force of the bombs, just foundations left of buildings,” he said. “I remember an officer saying Japan had awakened a sleeping giant.”

He also recalled the difficult sea travel on huge military ships. “We’d have giant waves above the ship and it rocked,” he said. “I didn’t get sea sick, but a lot of guys did. The ones who didn’t had to work harder. I watched as one soldier was transferred from one ship to another one in the middle of the ocean by a chair connected to a rope between the two ships. He had appendicitis and they had to get him to medical care on the other ship in the middle of the ocean in a storm.”

He ended his service with the rank of Corporal. Upon returning home, he worked at Iberville Motors, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Kaiser Aluminum and a shipping company before retiring.

RUEL SENECA, SR.: Another Korean War veteran, Ruel Seneca was on the front lines of combat in Korea. “I went to California for basic training, and then was shipped to Korea,” he said. “We slept in tents and in bunkers. I saw a lot of guys get killed. It was a day-to-day thing on whether I’d make it,” he said. “Most of our unit came back, but some were hurt.”

His job was to maintain communications with another regiment of the military, which was difficult because communication at that time was by wire. “Wires would get cut and damaged and we’d have to get them running again,” he said. “It was important that we know what was happening with the other regiment. I had a rifle, but my job was communications.”

He too recalled the bitter cold of Korea. He met three soldiers from Plaquemine while serving in Korea: Delos Diamond, Nathan Verret and John LeJeune. He ended his service with the rank of sergeant in 1954. Seneca said it was a shock to go from being a country boy from Bayou Chene to war in Korea.

When I came home it was very difficult to get a job,” he said. He ended up working with the City of Plaquemine Electrical Department, and then became a self-employed electrician until his retirement.