STORIES of SERVICE: Local Veterans’ contributions celebrated

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

RESERVE — Some rolled, some were pushed.

Sadly, a few had no idea they were even there.

Several, however, were determined to walk, no matter how hard it was or how long it took.

Residents at the Southeast Louisiana War Veterans Home filled the halls recently as they waited their turn to be recognized for their service to their country.

Col. Joey Strickland, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, had made his way from Baton Rouge with a large batch of Louisiana Governor’s Medals and certificates from Gov. John Bel Edwards to deliver to more than 100 former servicemen and women who now live in the state-of-the-art Vete-rans Home in Reserve.

They were ready, and most grateful.

Mary Dupepe was 20 when she volunteered to serve in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp.

Mary Dupepe was just 20 years old, a young lady from Lutcher, when she volunteered to serve in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp in the early 1940s.

The next thing she knew, she was in Washington, D.C., inside the Pentagon, working for the Signal Corps for two and a half years.

“I was in communications,” she said. “We handled a lot of top secret information. It was very interesting that they were so top secret about everything.”

To Dupepe, it was a great adventure.
“I enjoyed being away from home,” she said. “It taught me to appreciate my house.”

Now Dupepe is 91 years old and has been living just a few months in the War Veterans Home in Reserve.

She was able to walk up to Col. Strickland Thursday to receive her medal, then sat politely and watched her fellow veterans receive theirs.

“I feel honored, naturally,” she said. “It’s kind of a reward for my service.”

Cleveland C.D. Clement Jr. wore his red Nicholls State University shirt and his black U.S. Army hat to Thursday’s ceremony.

Although he sat in a wheelchair while waiting for his name to be called, he was determined to stand up when it was his turn.

With a broad smile, he accepted the velvet box containing a ribbon with a circular gold medal depicting the state of Louisiana.

A few minutes later, it was pinned to his chest, over his heart.

“I think it’s great that the citizens of the state honored us like that,” he said. “It’s a beautiful medal. I think everyone who serves in the military, whether it’s war time or peace time, needs to be commended.”

Clement was born on New Year’s Eve 1928 in Thibodaux.

He attended Thibodaux College, which eventually became E.D. White High School, where he excelled in football, basketball and baseball.

He was 17 when he convinced his father to overrule his mother’s objections and sign for him to join the Army.

“She didn’t want to sign,” Clement said. “I had to convince him. They had a real row over that.”

Clement spent two years in Japan, mostly doing clerical duties, and served a total of seven years.

When he returned home, Clement used the GI Bill to enroll at Nicholls State when it opened in 1948. He and three other men formed the school’s first weight lifting team.

Clement went on to teach French at E.D. White, Nicholls State and LSU and he worked in the oil field for several years.

He also went to work for the municipal government in Thibodaux, eventually becoming City Administrator. He even served as the Mayor pro tem, when the elected mayor became ill.

“I had about four jobs at once,” he said.

He has been a resident of the Veterans Home since 2015 and really enjoys dancing during musical events. He still throws out a good French line or two once in a while.

“I like to have a good time,” he said.

John Reid served in the Air Force for three and a half years.

John Reid was the first in line for Thursday’s medal ceremony, calmly sitting in his wheelchair while waiting for his name to be called.

When it was his turn, his emotions caught up to him.

“It means a lot,” he said.

A native of Oklahoma, Reid served in the Air Force for three and a half years. His time was cut short when his mother died and he was granted a hardship discharge.

“I had six brothers and I was the oldest,” he said. “I had to go take care of them.

Harold Power, 93, said he liked his medal “very much” as he showed it off Thursday.

Harold Power happily displays his well-deserved medal.

Originally from Algiers, Power served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946 on the USS Iowa and has the hat to show for it — but couldn’t find it on Thursday.

Instead, he wore a well-worn hat with red and white stripes and white stars on a field of blue.

Now 93, Power has lived in the Veterans Home for six years.

“He says it’s the best place he’s ever lived,” said his brother-in-law, Charlie, who lives in Lutcher and regularly visits.

Although Power can only tell snippets of his story, he is proud to have served.

“They’ve all got a story,” Charlie said. “They’re all in their 90s now.”