Veterans Claude Crawford, Joe Guilbeau honored for Veterans Day by Post South

TOMMY COMEAUX tcomeaux@postsouth.com
Claude Crawford

Claude Crawford served with Army's Green Beret's in Vietnam War

“I’m not a hero,” says U.S. Army veteran Claude Crawford. “The heroes are the ones who are six feet under.” And while most would agree with his assessment of those who died alongside him in the Vietnam War, many would disagree with his claim of not being a hero.

“I saw a bunch of my friends die over there,” he said, but believes he survived “because evidently, God had something else for me. He wasn’t ready for me.”

Wounded twice in what most consider the most brutal war the United States ever was involved in, Crawford was a member of the heralded Green Beret, one of the most elite fighting forces ever.

Born and reared in Corpus Christi, Texas, Crawford graduated from high school there in the late 1960s, at the height of the conflict in Southeast Asia.

“I went into the Army where I trained to be a Green Beret,” he said. “I passed all that with flying colors the first time through.”

His basic training was in Ft. Lewis, Wash., a long way from his native southern Texas. “They sent three planeloads from Corpus Christi and south Texas to Washington in the middle of winter and then the Army wondered why so many of them were coming down with pneumonia,” Crawford said.

Crawford’s first tour of Vietnam began in 1968 and lasted through 1969. Normally, the Army only expected one year of service in the war. He insisted on returning.

“I came back home on leave and was supposed to be going to Ft. Bragg but when I went there, I told them to send me back to Vietnam,” he said. “I stayed in Vietnam from 1969 to 1972.”

Both tours cost the now 68-year-old Plaquemine resident wounds earning him Purple Hearts. The first tour, Crawford took a bullet to the leg and during the second one, he was hit in the back by shrapnel.

He said television programs and movies accurately depict the beauty of the country, but not the violence and gore of the war.

“You could probably multiply that by more than seven numbers,” Crawford said. “On TV and in the movies, they pick and choose which pictures they show because they don’t want people to change the channel.”

“When I came back stateside, they put me over in Ft. Knox, Ky., and I worked in radio communications there,” he said. “Then I was transferred to Ft. Bragg and while I was there, I was training new Green Berets.”

Crawford spent 10 years in all in the Army and was bounced from base to base after returning from Vietnam. His next stop would be at Ft. Gordon in Georgia where he attended and completed senior NCO (non-commissioned officer) school.

Other stops for Crawford were a return to Ft. Bragg and then to Ft. Campbell, Ky., and a stint in Germany before leaving the service in 1978.

“When I got out of the Army I went to work in construction, specifically high voltage work,” he said. “I became a high voltage troubleshooter and traveled around the world.”

After his work brought him to Louisiana, Crawford “met and married a woman here, my wife Sandra, a Brusly native, and I’ve been right here ever since.”

Claude and Sandra have been married for over 30 years and are the parents of two, grandparents to four and great grandparents of six. He has lots of time to enjoy his family.

“I retired in July 1999, one week before I turned 50,” Crawford said, adding he does more than just enjoy his grandchildren and great grandchildren in his retirement years.

“A lot of what I do is basically work with veterans helping them get their benefit or help them take care of this problem or that dealing with veterans stuff,” he said.

Crawford is a member of a number of military organizations, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

U.S. Navy veteran Joe Guilbeau served aboard an aircraft carrier

Joe Guilbeau may have dropped out of college but it was for good reason. The year was 1946 and young Joe decided he wanted to serve his country and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was 18.

“It was a decision I made because I wanted to serve my country so I just put my hand up and dropped out of college,” he said. “I wanted to make a better chapter in my life and put on the uniform of my country.”

Now 89 and recently retired, Guilbeau returned to Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) after his three years in the service, received his degree in horticulture on the G.I. Bill and built a career. He spent nearly 65 years in sales and sales management and along the way, got married.

A native of Scott, La., Guilbeau now spends his days gardening and with yardwork and provides a humorist’s view of the world in a weekly column for the Plaquemine Post South.

While World War II was over before he was old enough to join the Navy, Guilbeau had a colorful career in the service, beginning with his basic training at the Naval Training Station in San Diego, Calif.

“After that, I served in stations like Newport, R.I., Norfolk, Va., Philadelphia, Penn., and Treasure Island Naval Base in California,” he said, before being assigned to an aircraft carrier.

“The USS Valley Forge became my home for two years,” Guilbeau said. “I served in the Atlantic fleet and the Pacific fleet, including a spell under the famous Vice Admiral Gerald Bogan, the commander of the Air Atlantic Fleet.”

During the time he was stationed on the Valley Forge, he served as a fire controller first class.

“You’re assigned a job on ship and I was a fire control man,” Guilbeau said, explaining the job title was deceiving. “Fire control man does not mean I was a fireman but rather I was the person in charge of several magazines, storage compartments where the ammunition on the ship was stored.”

Working on an aircraft carrier, the ammunition he kept up with was for both the aircraft aboard and the ship’s guns, he explained. “On top of that, we were in charge of firing the guns, after commands from officers in charge of aiming them.”

The Valley Forge has since been decommissioned and dismantled, its teak deck cut into smaller pieces as souvenirs to sailors who’d served aboard her, Guilbeau said. “I have one.”

A history of the Valley Forge was published years ago, “so a short biography of me is in the Library of Congress,” he continued. He said he joins shipmates as often as possible at their annual reunions.

A longtime resident of Plaquemine, Guilbeau lives with his wife Verlee Fruge. “We’ve been going steady for 67 years,” he says, adding he believes he and his wife are possibly the oldest married couple in the city.

“Today, I belong to an organization called the Navy League of the United States, an organization supporting all of the maritime branches of our military, the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines,” he said.

Guilbeau’s interest in horticulture has been lifelong and he still maintains a garden and “thinks humorously. That’s what makes me a humorist.”

“I’ve worked my whole life – I just retired last year at 88,” he said, then provided inside into the mind of a retired humorist. “You know what I like about being retired? I can go downtown wearing my loafers with no socks.”

“I tried to put on my old uniform, but the only thing that fit was my necktie,” Guilbeau said, to which his wife replied, “I’m not so sure the tie still fits.”