A Day to Remember: Veterans home honors its own
Published 12:07 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017
RESERVE — Fighting her way past the tears that threatened to choke her voice, Sonya Hebert read each name to the hushed crowd.
Earl Mannina clanged a brass bell after each one.
Albert Simon, Louis Cook III, Moses Hirsch, Willie Ellender, Edward Johnson, Larry Smith, Robert Williams – theirs were only a few of the names read.
There were a total of 69 names on Hebert’s list, men and women who, just one year ago, celebrated Memorial Day at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home in Reserve this same way.
Veterans who served their country, they all had earned the right to spend their final days in the spit-and-polished Reserve facility.
In the days and months since then, however, each of those 69 men and women have passed away.
Every year, Hebert and the residents of the local facility pay tribute to those they have lost with the reading of the names, the tolling of the bell and a ceremony called the “Flaming Helmet.”
John “J.C.” Clark of American Legion Post 509 in Ama takes all the names outside, puts them in a pith helmet atop a tripod of rifles and lights them on fire.
As the smoke rises, the local VFW Post executes a 21-gun salute then a bugler plays Taps.
“We’re sending their souls to Heaven,” Clark said.
Following the burning, Arthur Martin, 98, representing the U.S. Coast Guard and assisted by current Coast Guardsmen placed a memorial wreath at the base of the flag pole.
It’s all part of the annual Memorial Day celebration held the Friday before the holiday. While filled with pomp and pageantry, it also is a fun time for the residents who are treated to food and entertainment by the Victory Belles singing trio.
The Spillway Radio Control Club came too, bringing a dozen or so replica military planes for the veterans to reminisce over.
“It’s a special day for us,” Hebert said.
Many of the residents gathered in the events room Friday as Rev. Harold Keller emceed the proceedings.
Among the crowd were veterans from all branches of the military, many wearing their colors and boasting their service on their hats.
Clyde Hymel, 91, of Garyville, turned out in his full Marine Corps dress blues uniform.
Rhonda Lemons, representing the office of the Parish President, gave a moving speech about the true meaning of the holiday.
“We must never forget,” Lemons said. “We remember all who laid down their lives. Memorial Day is not a time for picnics and parties, but there is not a thing wrong about celebrating that way.”
After a musical performance by Gabrielle Maria Treas, the grand daughter of former resident Emile Hotard, Keller introduced guest speaker Corey Webster to the crowd.
A standout athlete St. James High School, Webster went on to a stellar college football career at LSU.
He then helped the New England Patriots win two Super Bowls.
“You are the true heroes of this world,” Webster told the crowd. “Not just today but every day.”