St. Mary veterans of WWII served all across the world
Veterans of World War II, all 90 years old or older, sat behind a linen-draped table with their names on folded white cards before them.
St. Mary Parish residents all, they presented a local face to the estimated 16 million Americans who served during that war.
Franklin Lodge 57 Free and Accepted Masons, with assistance from the St. Mary Parish Office of Veterans Affairs, searched these men out and gathered them all at the Lamp Post in Franklin Wednesday.
Lodge Secretary Blaise Smith introduced each in turn.
PFC Emanuel Skinner, Morgan City, U.S. Army, was unable to attend. He was a rifleman in the infantry and served in the European theater.
PFC Chelly Mendoza, Baldwin, U.S. Army, was among those who liberated the prisoners forced into the Bataan Death March, that began in April 1942 with the forced march of Filipino and American prisoners of war by the Japanese. Possibly as many as 650 Americans died on the way. Mendoza was recipient of the Purple Heart.
Seaman First Class Eugene Wilson, of Baldwin, U.S. Navy, served aboard a submarine, destroyer and an aircraft carrier in the Pacific conflict.
Seaman 1st Class Henry Watson, Franklin, U.S. Navy, served stateside on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. During the war years, the Japanese threat against the Pacific included balloons loaded with bombs and other actions. In the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, German submarines infiltrated U.S. waters on numerous occasions.
Technician Cpl. Floyd Paul Sr., Verdunville, U.S. Army combat engineer, fought in Saipan in the South Pacific.
Cpl. Jackson McNeal, U.S. Army, 101st Airborne, served in Europe. He was bestowed the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge. He had been a prisoner of war.
Cpl. Leroy Burgess, Charenton, U.S. Marine Corps, earned two Purple Hearts and the Silver Star for battles in the South Pacific.
Field Musician Sgt. Ira Peltier, Franklin, U.S. Marine Corps, served aboard several flagships and performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Sgt. Thomas Randazzo, Franklin, U.S. Army, 28th Infantry, served in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, France and Luxembourg, a surprise German offensive on the Western Front. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman Badge.
Both Randazzo and Burgess were among four men selected to place a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery in 2008.
Staff Sgt. Ashley Guidry, U.S. Army, Third Army, served at the Battle of the Bulge under Gen. George Patton and earned the Bronze Star with Clusters, the Silver Star and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Cpt. Eugene Clark, U.S. Air Force, Franklin, was a communications commander.
Brig. Gen. William Bigler, Franklin, U.S. Army, graduated from West Point in 1946. He served in post-war occupied Germany, then in Korea as a captain in communications. He later returned to Germany as battalion commander of the 4th Armored Division during the time that the Berlin Wall was erected. Bigler was the first American officer to go into East Berlin. He served in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive as a colonel in 1968.
Wednesday’s event was attended by more than 100 people.
Members of the Jeanerette Junior ROTC respectfully presented plaques to each of the veterans.