Monument unveiled at Carville National Guard facility

Lacy L. Brown/State Unit Public Affairs
Ted D. Lang speaks at a monument dedication ceremony Feb. 19 in the cemetery of the Louisiana National Guard’s Gillis W. Long Center in Carville. A monument was unveiled to honor the patients treated for Hansen’s disease in the Carville area.

CARVILLE – The “Forty and Eight” Veteran’s Honor Society held a monument dedication ceremony at the Louisiana National Guard’s Gillis W. Long Center in Carville, Feb. 19, in honor of patients treated for Hansen’s disease at the historic facility.

The monument, a replica of a similar stone erected in 1921, was found on the GWLC grounds and can be viewed on a guided tour through the facility’s museum. The stone commemorates the 137 patients who died at the center from 1894 to 1921.

“During a board meeting a few years ago, the Forty and Eight Veterans recommended that the old monument be relocated to a site where everyone could see it.  It was quickly brought to our attention that the old stone was a grave marker and could not be moved,” said Dr. James Krahenbul, the director of the National Hansen’s Disease Program.

Members of the Forty and Eight took the initiative to raise money to recreate the stone and have it placed in an area that is visible to everyone.

The large turn-out of Forty & Eight members, former patients and loved ones, and LANG Soldiers gathered to not only unveil the monument and bring awareness of accomplishments of the treatment facility at GLWC, but to honor Jose Ramirez, a former patient at the center.

After the ceremony, Ramirez hosted a book signing of his recently-released book, Squint: My Journey with Leprosy.   The managing editor of “The STAR,” a local publication that provides information and further guidance on Hansen’s disease, Ramirez is also a recipient of the National Americanism Award for exemplifying the American way of life and principles given by the Forty and Eight.

The GWLC was turned over to the state in 1999, when the patient population began to decrease. 

The State of Louisiana Military Department gained control of the property, which began a new era for Carville.  Approximately 17 Hansen’s patients continue to reside at the facility.

“Col. Guidry has introduced me to the wonderful things that have happened here since 1999, when the federal institution was returned back to the state. If it had not been for him and the National Guard, I have no idea what these facilities would be like,” stressed Ramirez.

“He has shown me that he has a big heart and has made sure that those who have lived here are always remembered.”

“God bless Carville, for this place has saved my life on many occasions, in many ways,” added Jose R. Ortega, a patient at the GWLC.  “My thanks to the staff that has taken care of us and for all of you who have supported us.”

Krahenbul added, “Their lives were changed in a matter of hours by something unknown in nature, but because of Carville, their lives continued on even when they had doubts of their own.”