Veterans Day honors local servicemen in elaborate program hosted by the Iberville Parish Council

TOMMY COMEAUX tcomeaux@postsouth.com
Women look for relatives among the hundreds of photos placed on a temporary wall for the Iberville Parish Council's Veterans Day program.

“We are gathered here today to show our appreciation to all the men and women coming from all walks of life and serving in all branches of the military so that you and I on this day may enjoy the land of the free and home of the brave that we live in today.”

It was with this powerful quote the program’s master of ceremonies James “Fry” Hymel, a U.S. Army veteran opened the tribute to American soldiers, sailors and airmen.

The program, “Iberville Salute to Veterans,” was held Friday morning at the Veterans Memorial on Railroad Avenue in Plaquemine and it was organized by Iberville Parish Council employees and funded primarily by the council.

A highlight of the program was the periodic performances by the Victory Belles from the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Parish President Mitchell Ourso Jr. said he’d been told by the event’s lead organizer, Ellie Hebert, that “they are going to cost a little bit, but after this performance I think it was worth every penny.”

“…To all you veterans and your families, thank you for your sacrifices to make this country what it is today,” he said later.

Just before Ourso spoke, Hymel introduced the parish’s World War II veterans, each of whom was presented with a special medal provided by the parish president.

The program included a host of dignitaries, all of whom praised the country’s veterans, including U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge).

“One president about 30 years ago talked about our freedom, saying it is not something that’s inherited through our bloodstream to our kids,” he said. “It’s not something that we pass to the next generation.”

“The freedom of this country is something that’s fought for and something that’s defended,” Graves continued.

“When we think back on what our veterans have done, to the sacrifices that they’ve made, literally putting every single thing on the line and some of them not coming back and their families experiencing an extraordinary void because these heroes are and were defending us,” he said.

“What if our World War II veterans hadn’t given it their all,” Graves said. “Think of what our country would be like today.”

“The sacrifices, the bravery, the courage is amazing,” he said. “I want to thank you, each and every one of you for your service to our nation, for your fight for our freedoms so that we could be the country that we are today.”

Sheriff Brett Stassi, like Graves, talked about the next generation but in a different, although just as important, context.

“These veterans that we’re celebrating today wer3e not sitting on a sofa and playing ‘Call of Duty’ and calling to their mamas to bring them some chicken nuggets and something to drink,” he said.

“These veterans watched their friends die while they were serving their country,” Stassi continued. “They didn’t have the ability to hit ‘restart’ like you can on a video game. It was a real life and death situation.”

The sheriff also told the young people in the audience to take the time to listen to the stories their veteran relatives want to share.

“There are lessons to be learned and these lessons are way greater than any lesson you’ll learn playing any video game,” Stassi said.

Parish Coroner James Grace, M.D., a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he agreed with some of the other speakers who’d claimed the United States the “greatest nation in the world.”

“…The most important thing that we have is our freedom,” he said. “we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all of our veterans – those who have gone before us, those who have recently served and those who are serving now.”

“Because of their efforts, that freedom is maintained,” Grace concluded.

The well organized program included interludes of entertainment.

The glamorous Victory Belles sang, danced and performed hits from the 1940s several times, much to the delight of the older veterans, especially the ones the women singled out to kiss or for a dance.

The National Anthem was performed by the MSA Academy Orchestra and MSA Academy Showstoppers, “You’re a Grand Ole Flag” was sung by the St. John School Choir, the Plaquemine High ROTC Rifle Drill Team staged a demonstration of their rifle drill skills and the Westside Honor Guard offered a 21-gun salute in recognition of our nation’s MIAs and POWs.

More entertainment was provided by World War II U.S Navy veteran Johnny Wilbert, who played “Taps” in honor of military personnel who gave their lives in service, the Baton Rouge Pipes and Drum Corps performed “Amazing Grace” and the MSA students were followed only by one last song from the Victory Belles as the students presented “God Bless America.”