Hundreds turn out for Veterans Day parade

Lisa Yates @Lisa_editor

The threat of rain didn't stop Desiree Veazy from attending the Veterans Day celebration and parade on Sunday.

"If it rained, we still would have come," she said.

Veazy, 28, her little brother Shelby Gaudet, 7, and 14-year-old sisters Abby and Gabby, along with Jace Chenevert, 9, and Jade Chenevert, 8, were lined up along Worthy St. holding signs reading: "Thank you, Vets."

"We do this every year to show support for our veterans because they deserve our utmost respect," she said.

Misty, a young mother from Sorrento, along with her 3-week-old daughter Savannah, and 3-year-old son Hunter were among hundreds of people lined up along the parade route waving American flags to salute veterans in Ascension Parish.

"We were headed for the park when we stumbled upon the parade," she said. "We love a parade."

Vietnam Vets of America (VVA) Commander Jack Watson, a retired Army Veteran and VVA Chapter 725 President, said he was honored that so many people came out to support veterans.

"I'm here paying tribute to our fallen comrades," he said.

He said it's important for people to show support for veterans because they gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Watson, the Veteran's Park Committee Commander, estimated there were between 300 and 400 people attending the opening ceremony.

He said each year Ascension Parish honors its veterans with a celebration and parade.

The opening ceremony started at 11 a.m. in the Veteran's Park Amphitheatre. The parade started at 2 p.m. on Irma Blvd., proceeded to Worthy Rd. then on to Burnside Ave. and Cornerview Rd., ending up back on Irma Blvd.

The atmosphere was festive with sounds of patriotic music provided by more than 60 choir students from Dutchtown, St. Amant and East Ascension high schools, along with their choir directors whom volunteered their time to perform for the veterans.

People clad in red, white and blue sat watching the opening ceremony sipping on bottled water and cold drinks, wearing Buddy Poppies given out by Effie Ronkartz, chairman of the poppy drive.

She, along with other VFW members, including Lois Croon, Mary Price, Gertie Savoy, Adeline Guedry and Mabel Felps pinned Buddy Poppies on everyone entering the park. The women said they had just held a fundraiser which raised more than $800, with proceeds going to Veterans of Foreign Wars to assist with veteran programs.

After the ceremony, members of the Jambalaya Association served up jambalaya from the Leadership Ascension vehicle, with help from the Jambalaya Queen.

"The celebration is something we've been doing a long time," said Brent Gautreau, Commander of Gonzales Memorial VFW Post 3693. "It's a good way for the community to recognize the vets."

He said Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez was instrumental in making the Veterans Day Parade a reality.

"This is our third annual parade," he said. "Tommy Martinez wanted to acknowledge the vets for the things they have done in the past and the things that they are still doing today."

This year's grand marshals were WWII Veteran Pershing Mire and Afghanistan Veteran Jeffrey Argrave. Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, also a WWII Veteran, was a special guest grand marshal.

Mire, a WWII Army veteran from Gonzales, said he was honored to be chosen as Grand Marshal. He said this was his first time to be chosen Grand Marshal.

"This is something I've always wanted to do, but I told the organizers that they better not wait to late to ask me," he joked.

He had joined the Army in the 1940s, along with his only brother Richard V. Mire.

"I've been coming here for years to honor the memory of my brother," he said. "He was killed in the Battle of the Bulge."

Mire said serving in the military has allowed him to see many places in this country and around the world.

"I'd like to go back and revisit some of the places I've been – France, Germany and Austria," he said. "We met up with the Russians in Austria."

Argrave, a younger veteran, said he was honored to serve as co-Grand Marshal with Mire.

"It means a lot for local people to recognize me and to be up here with a World War II Vet," he said. "It's mind-blowing to be in that kind of company."

Brian Fletcher, 14, a Boy Scout from Troop 769 in Prairieville, passed out programs along with other members of the Boy Scouts.

"I've done this since Cub Scouts for service hours," he said.

Fletcher said it's important for young people to come out and support veterans.

"It's respectful," he said. "We come out here and respect the veterans."

Stephen Henry of Gonzales was pleased to see so many young people take an interest in Veterans Day.

"We have a lot of kids in ROTC programs in Ascension Parish and it's a good thing," he said. "We didn't have this kind of participation years ago. This ROTC is doing an outstanding job."

Henry is a Vietnam Vet, Commander of American Legion Post 81, a member of the La. Dept. of Veteran Affairs, and a service officer for Ascension Parish. He said most people don't realize how many veterans live in this area.

"There are almost 6,000 veterans in Ascension Parish," he said.