94-year-old veteran gets drive-by birthday parade

Published 12:05 am Friday, April 10, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

GARYVILLE — The big 94th birthday bash planned for Clyde Hymel of Garyville was put on hold with the spread of COVID-19, but his family still found a way to make his day special.

Hymel’s children and grandchildren honored his big day with a drive-by birthday parade outside of his house on Church Street in Garyville. Hymel watched happily from his driveway Friday afternoon as his family members honked their horns one-by-one to make him smile.

Clyde Hymel is pictured with the Victory Bebes, a young group of aspiring Victory Belles.

The procession was led by the sheriff and included more than 20 cars. A beautiful birthday sign decorated his front yard.

A grand celebration is fitting for Hymel’s long list of life accomplishments. Hymel, a respected World War II veteran, served his country as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1944 to 1946. He left the United States through Pearl Harbor and served on islands in the Pacific.

He helped secure the island of Tinnian and built the airstrip that launched the Enola Gay. His battalion was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest military decoration of valor, for shooting down the most planes with the least ammunition.

During his time in the military, Hymel sent whatever money he earned to his mother to support the family. He never was able to afford dress blues. A few years ago, his grandchildren grouped together to purchase his dress blues and surprised him with his own brick at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Hymel wore those long-awaited dress blues Friday during his birthday parade celebration.

He can often be found wearing his U.S. Marine Corps cap, and a military flag flies in his front yard, according to his daughter, Sally Martin.

“They say once a Marine, always a Marine, and he is a Marine until he dies,” Martin said. “His two sons were Marines. They both served in Vietnam. He feels very strongly about the Marine Corps and the military.”

Hymel also feels strongly about family. He has built a legacy of that includes eight children, 22 grandchildren and more than 40 great grandchildren.

Born only eight years after the height of the Spanish Influenza, Hymel vividly remembers his parents talking about the outbreak. Face masks weren’t what they are today, and cloth coverings were the best means of protection.

Growing up as one of 13 children during the Great Depression has had a lasting effect on his life and personal values, according to his granddaughter, Summer Byrd.

A “Honk 4 Clyde” sign was part of the birthday parade on Church Street in Garyville.

“Growing up, my cousins and I didn’t understand why he doesn’t throw anything away,” Byrd said. “He was very innovative and found ways to make use of everything. He would work out in his shed at 89 years old with weights made from bags of flour and rice.”

Martin recalls her father worked long hours at Godchaux Sugar Refinery in Reserve and at Kaiser Aluminum in Gramercy. When he had young children, he kept a vegetable garden and raised cows to ensure his family would never go hungry.

It’s been difficult for Hymel to be out of touch with his family during this time. However, he recently received an iPad with his own Facebook account to receive messages and pictures from family. His caretaker is helping him navigate the new technology.

“I’m excited that he’s still here and with us. He’s such a hero to everyone in our family and a hero to the whole town,” Byrd said. “It broke my heart that he had been talking about his big birthday party since January, and we had to cancel it. I told him that we’re going to have a bigger party once this is over. We’re going to bring out all the bells and whistles.”