Giving Back: Legion’s impact, numbers grow

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2014

By Monique Roth

LAPLACE — American Legion Post 383 in St. John the Baptist Parish, led by Commander Dave Gatt, has grown from 64 to just over 350 members in four years.

“The primary reason for the growth is the time that I take to communicate with people one-on-one about the benefits of joining,” Gatt said.

Veterans benefit from joining the American Legion in national-level representation for the continuation of benefits such as TRICARE insurance and the GI Bill — which provides educational assistance to service members, veterans and their dependents — among other things, Gatt said.

Veterans aren’t the only ones who benefit from the American Legion, as Post 383 Chaplain Gene Franques said “the American Legion is here to support the veterans, their families and the community.” Franques also serves as the state’s historian and photographer.

In fulfilling that mission, Post 383 is committed to mentoring youth and sponsorship of wholesome programs in the community.

Franques said Post 383’s “three flagship programs” are sponsoring Boys Scouts, organizing American Legion baseball and sponsoring local students to attend Boys State and Girls State.

Jacob Venus of Riverside Academy and Jeffrey Millet of St. Charles Catholic High School are two of the young men who completed the Boys State program this summer. They were able to attend the program with American Legion Post 383’s financial backing.

Honors students with family military backgrounds, Venus and Millet were lauded at this month’s American Legion meeting for successfully completing the program.

“Boys State is not (an easy) program. It’s not a camp,” Franques said. “It’s a very intense program teaching every aspect of Louisiana government.”

Venus and Millet addressed American Legion members at the meeting, thanking the group for their financial support and service to the country.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for me,” Millet said. “I learned so much and met amazing students.”

Venus agreed, calling Boys State a “life-changing experience” that would him help him throughout life.

Franques said Post 383 was able to send five students to Girls State and four students to Boys State this summer because of the generous donations of local businesses and individuals, as well as American Legion fundraisers. One way Post 383 raises money is through selling veterans apparel at various events, and Franques said the post’s purchase of a professional sized BBQ pit has made it possible for a partnership with Supreme Ford in LaPlace for cookouts to benefit the organization. Gatt said the next cookout is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Aside from fundraising, Post 383 also regularly provides casket-side and graveside flag folding for American Legion members.

“We give everything we have to be there and to do it with honor,” Franques said.

Post 383 meets monthly in LaPlace, and at this month’s meeting held a solemn Gold Star Banner Presentation to the family of Thomas Cornman, who entered the U.S. Air Force in June 2010 and was assigned to 159th Civil Engineering Squadron. He died while serving on active duty.

Thomas’ parents and brothers were presented with a Gold Star Banner, which Gatt said is to be displayed in their home’s window.

“It is with a feeling of honor and sadness that we have presented the Gold Star Banner to the Cornman family,” Gatt said. “Although we may not have experienced the personal loss that they have, we, as veterans, appreciate the sacrifice given through the loss of our fellow veteran. The arms of a grateful nation are wrapped around this family to comfort them in their loss.”

Franques said within the last year Post 383 has worked to re-introduce the Gold Star and Blue Star programs to the community.

The Blue Star Service Banner is an 8.5-by-14-inch white flag with one or more blue stars sewn onto a red banner. Families display these banners when they have a loved one serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. While the blue star represents a family member serving, a gold star is placed over it if the family member is killed.

LaPlace resident Charles Armitage, who has served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Coast Guard, was one of many sworn in as an American Legion member at this month’s meeting. He said joining was his way of continuing to show patriotism, and at the meeting he and his wife Dyan were given a Blue Star Banner in honor of their son Joseph, who is serving in the U.S. Army.

The next American Legion Post 383 outreach is a hospital briefing that will take place at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the St. John Community Center, located at 2900 U.S. Highway 51 in LaPlace.

Gatt said the assistant director and chief engineer for the new veterans’ hospital being constructed in New Orleans will be present to discuss the plans and progress for the hospital, including what those things will mean for local veterans. Gatt said all are invited to attend.

For more information, contact Franques at or Gatt at 504-415-7405.