Veterans Day takes on new meaning for Tri-parish vets
By SOPHIA RUFFIN
From his Houma barbershop, 87-year-old Oddie Hebert is quick to remind others that wars may come and go, but “the soldier remains eternal.”
A retired combat engineer with the United States Army, Hebert is among the hundreds of veterans Tri-parish residents will honor this Veterans Day.
For that, the World War II veteran is glad.
“In all the previous wars, Veterans Day was a day when people would just acknowledge the fact that soldiers fought in foreign countries to get foreigners rights like we have in America,” he said.
Hebert joined the Army in 1944; he was assigned to the “Charlie Company” infantry unit. The war would be over within a year, but at the time Hebert helped build bridges American tanks to cross while serving in Germany.
“People may not think that was a big deal, but it was,” the World War II vet said. “Working day and night, we were able to build bridges in half the amount of time it would take a whole construction crew. Building those bridges is how we keep moving forward,” he said.
The Houma man says thinking about the wars and the struggles his family had to make while he was away still makes him a little weepy at times. He said the hardest thing was leaving his family behind.
Hebert said once the war was over he was glad to come home to his wife and two-year-old son. “I’ve always felt that as soldiers, we couldn’t just start a war and walk away from it,” he said. “We had to see it out to the end and try to make it home.”
Houma’s Elton Landry, a former Army foot soldier with the 2nd Infantry Division, also called the “Indian Head” division, said the spirit of Veterans Day has changed over the years.
Landing in Korea in 1950, Landry said, “People didn’t celebrate Veterans Day back then, they treated wars as if they didn’t happen.”
Now, the 75-year-old says Americans are hanging flags in their yards and placing “support the troop” magnets on their cars. “Families spend hundreds of dollars sending care-packages overseas to their loved ones, back then we got nothing,” he said.
Landry said Americans may not understand everything about wars, but now they share their opinions whether good or bad. “In the 21st century, Americans are proud to have someone in their family who serves in any of the U.S. Armed Forces,” he said. “Americans are speaking up for the troops more.”
The retired Korean War vet said the month of November is a great month to celebrate Veterans Day. Back in the 1940s, VFW posts and American Legions didn’t acknowledge veterans, he said. “Now they go all out at their annual celebration and reunions giving us the recognition that we deserved many years ago.”
Right now, Landry is an active helper at the VA Medical Hospital in Houma. He said during the rough times, his platoon still found ways to overcome the heartache of being without their families.
“Pray became our only salvation,” said the retired foot soldier.
Compared to the Vietnam era, Veterans Day is uniting soldiers and their communities.
Irvin Jones, a local retired Vietnam Veteran, was a member 68th Medic Evacuation unit of the United State Army. The local Thibodaux barber said he entered the Army in 1968 and within months, he was shipped to Vietnam.
Veterans Day is more meaningful to the public, he said, because soldiers are finally talking about what happened during their time of service.
“As a soldier coming home, we kept a lot of the madness and the horrors to ourselves,” the 61-year-old barber said. “At times the torture of thinking you might not make it home was enough to drive anyone over the edge. It took the love and support of your family and friends to keep you sane.”
Jones said after the Vietnam War, Nov. 11 was an ordinary day for Americans. He said people would offer him a pat on the back, but not much else. “Now, people really appreciate what we went through,” he said.
“The non-military people knew what they had heard on the news and radios, but they did not know what we really went through,” the Vietnam vet said. “If you look back Veterans Day wasn’t even called Veterans Day until after World War II. The way Americans acknowledged Veterans Day was different in 1919. Back then, the soldiers were glad to come home and be with their families, nothing else mattered.”
All three retired Army soldiers say they are glad they survived the wars. They said they hold their memories close to their hearts and they thank the American citizens for recognizing that they have risked their lives so that others can remain free like America.
Local schools, Veteran of Foreign War Posts and American Legions in the Tri-parish area have individually composed programs to salute Veterans like Jones, Landry and Hebert. Select schools in the community says they would like the students to know the true meaning of Veterans Day, and why it’s so important to American history.