In the ranks of our military, heroes abound

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 29, 2008

By Kevin Chiri

Heard a great story last week when I went out to the Louisiana War Veteran’s Home, although some of you may have heard this one already. But I’m still going to tell the story since I probably have a few more details than most people know, and even so, the story is worth repeating.

I met Michael McNaughton, who is now the public affairs officer for the Louisiana Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Michael was at the Vet’s Home since Lane Carson, our new secretary of the Veteran’s Affairs, was one of the invitees to the special flag retirement ceremony being held there that day.

Lane Carson and I go way back, since he used to be an assistant D.A. in St. Tammany Parish, where I worked at the Slidell newspaper for 30 years before coming here to the River Parishes.

So it was good to see him again and chat it up. Lane was a decorated military man himself, so it was no surprise he had a similar right-hand man in Michael working with him.

Michael’s story goes something like this.

Michael was 10 years active Army and three years in the Louisiana National Guard that led him to serving in Afghanistan beginning in 2002. He was in a group of men who were checking a mountain area for bombs before other soldiers came through there in January, 2003. But one of the bombs was well hidden and it blew up when he stepped on it. Michael said he was more fortunate than you might hear when you know that he fell, with his head hitting the ground within inches of another bomb.

He was brought back home to Walter Reed Hospital, and lost his leg from the accident, as well as some fingers on one hand. While in the hospital, President George Bush visited soldiers at Walter Reed and came upon Michael.

“When the president visited, I told him I used to run and that I would eventually be running again. So the president told me that when I was better, he and I would go running together,” Michael said.

You know that had to serve as some additional motivation to rehab, and sure enough, Michael did just that. When he was better, the president was true to his word and the two got together, running about a mile around the White House area.

But that wasn’t all. Michael got to go inside the White House and went upstairs where he worked out with Bush and got to visit with him some more.

“The one thing I remember is that he had the presence of being a president,” he said. “But he was a guy who made you feel comfortable. I was already a Republican and liked him, and believed in what we were doing. But the experience with him that day was something special that I’ll never forget.”

Michael said he also got to meet Laura Bush at the hospital and remembers “she was the kind of woman who made a room just glow with her personality.”

Originally from Louisiana, Michael had married a Louisiana girl and they now live in Denham Springs with their three children. He had a contact to the Louisiana government through General Hunt Downer, and that opened the door for him to work in Veteran’s Affairs, eventually getting offered the job as P.I.O.

Michael is the great kind of story you hear about what our soldiers are really made of. Never was there a complaint from him, but just a positive vibe the whole time I talked to him of an appreciative man who served his country with pride.

Thanks Michael from all of us, for the sacrifice you have made that we can live in this great country with the freedom we have.

Congratulations to three St. John students, who were selected “Students of the Year” in the St. John school system, announced last week by the St. John School Board.

Each year the board recognizes a top fifth grader, eighth grader and 12th grader, who will now move on to compete for regional honors, and then on to state, should they win at the regional level.

Michael Sanders, a fifth grader from West St. John, was selected the top student at that level. He is the son of Michael and Theresea Sanders, and does everything from play football, to participating in the youth choir. He has received the Student of the Month honor, been on the Principal’s List and placed first at the science fair, among a long list of accomplishments.

Cambrey Dent is an eighth grader from LaPlace Elementary who won the award for that grade.

Daughter of Marsha and Burnell Dent, who is pastor and founder of New Foundation for Life Church, she hopes to become a surgeon when she finishes school. She carries a 4.0 grade point average and is involved in many church activities.

Winning the 12th grade award was Shaontrea Antonio, a senior from West St. John High School.

Her parents are Lonnie and Goldie Antonio, and she also has a 4.0 GPA, besides being involved in a host of school activities. Just some of them are the Student Council, National Honor Roll Society, serving as president of the school National Beta Club and vice-president of the Future Business Leaders of America.

What’s interesting is that when these kids win these awards, we ask the school for a bio on them. What we end up getting is a huge packet with pages of information on all the things these kids do. What I’ve mentioned here is barely the tip of the iceberg.

Yea, it’s true. There are still a lot of really great kids out there, and that means there are a lot of really committed parents out there doing the work that is needed.

Congratulations to you all.

Kevin Chiri is Publisher of L’Observateur and can be reached at (985) 652-9545 or at