Local veterans fight for home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 21, 2002


“When the soldiers come home from war it is ‘Welcome home.’ Then we are swept under the rug of American History,” local veteran V.J. Theriot said, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes. “I don’t know why I get so emotional about this.”

While some may forget these American heroes, local veterans say they will continue to look out for each other. It is a power not to be underestimated. The veterans of American Legion Post No. 383 proved that when they won their campaign in October 2001 to bring a new veterans home to St. John the Baptist Parish.

“Now that we have the home, our parish administration is doing the mop up work,” Theriot said.

The local veterans did not always have the support of federal, state or local government leaders. When the American Legion Post 383 first jumped on the idea of bringing a veterans home to St. John Parish, St. Bernard Parish had already been chosen as the designated sight for the home. Most federal and state leaders involved in the project were committed to the St. Bernard site. Some local leaders scoffed at the veterans who believed they could, somehow, get the project relocated.

“I brought this to light on behalf of veterans,” Theriot said. “But it was a two-fold gift to benefit the veterans and to move the parish forward by getting the economic benefits of locating it here.”

Theriot and fellow veterans first heard about the proposed veteran home in St. Bernard in 1998. That is when their near three-year campaign began.

“When we first contacted Sen. Mary Landrieu we were told it was a done deal,” Theriot said. “The veterans home was going to St. Bernard Parish. I said, ‘You tell our senator that I am going to undone it.'”

Theriot made copies of articles and attached them to letters for St. John Parish Council members. He realized St. John could not qualify without land. Members of the 1998 St. John the Baptist Parish Council pledged 25 acres for the home, Theriot said.

In October 1998, Theriot went to a meeting of the Veterans Affairs Commission.

“They were not hearing me at that time because I was not on the agenda,” Theriot said. “At that time, a very political decision (to locate the facility in St. Bernard Parish) had already been made. During a recess, I proceeded to tell them (a few commissioners) what we had in the parish. A man in the back of the room came and said it would be nice if we could pull it off.”

The next day Pat McTopy, who attended the meeting with Theriot, was contacted about the proposal. The veterans’ chances of getting the veterans home moved to St. John Parish improved further when it was discovered that the selected building site in St. Bernard Parish was situated near a sewage plant. Another parish dropped out of the race because it could not come up with the needed acreage.

Local veterans led a letter-writing campaign to the governor’s office. That campaign pushed the veterans’ cause on to victory. The governor’s response to the letters – “Tell the people in LaPlace to stop the letters. I got the message.”

When the proposal came to a vote, the Veterans Affairs Commission voted unanimously to place the multimillion dollar facility in St. John the Baptist Parish. The diligent veterans celebrated victory. Today, local veterans are proud of the work they did to get the veteran home moved into the parish.

Theriot said some members of the local government are taking more credit for the veterans home than they deserve. It was, after all, the local veterans who brought the project home.

On Sept. 24, the St. John the Baptist Parish Council adopted a motion that recognizes the efforts of American Legion Post 383 for “their writing campaign that secured the Veteran Home for St. John Parish.” The motion was unanimously approved.

“I do not want people to think that I am trying to take credit for all this,” Theriot said. “There are really two people that helped us get the project moved to St. John.

“Throughout this campaign, we had strong assistance from Economic Development Director Julia Remondet and one honest indian, full-blooded Native American of the Choctaw tribe, Joey Strickland.”

Strickland is the executive director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Theriot’s eyes are wet and his voice trembles as he talks about the VA leader, a veteran of the Korean War.

“Because of his character, honesty and integrity when he saw the site we had for the veterans home, he was 100 percent committed to bringing the home to St. John Parish,” Theriot said. “Colonel Strickland, where ever you are and for the rest of your days, I pray that the road comes up to meet you, that the wind will always be at your back and, until we meet again in another world, may your god carry you in the palm of his hand.”