We salute all veterans and acknowledge those brave members of the military in service today. Veterans Day, named Armistice Day until 1954 is a federal holiday in the U.S. observed annually on November 11. The holiday honors military veterans, who are persons that have served in the United States Armed Forces and discharged under honorable conditions.
It coincides with other holidays including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day which are celebrated in other countries to mark the anniversary of the formal end of World War I, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day, a national holiday in May. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who had died while in military service.
Veterans Day reflects solemn pride in the heroism of those who served in the country’s service and offers gratitude to American veterans of all wars.
Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the city of Gretna will not be hosting the ever popular annual Veterans Day program. But no way should our local vets be forgotten! Take the time today to call or visit a relative or friend who is a veteran just to say hello and offer a profound “thanks” for their service.
One Gretna veteran we are honoring today is William Henry “Bill” Ward who entered military training in 1943 during WWII. He graduated from Bombardier School, Class #44-2, in Childress, Texas in February 1944, then on to the 112th Army Air Force Base Unit in Westover, Massachusetts. He was assigned to the 306th Bombardment Squadron as a bombardier-navigator and shipped out to begin his missions in Europe in July 1944.
In August the famed 306th was transferred to the 762nd Heavy Bombardment Squadron, a part of the 460th Bombardment Group. In November 1944, after his squad’s activities in Operation Market Garden he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
Less than a month later, during the Battle of the Bulge, his heavy bomber aircraft, the B-24 Liberator took on heavy fire, forcing an emergency landing near Brussels, Belgium. Thankfully, a sympathetic group of Belgians helped him and his crew. The squadron hitchhiked back to England to continue the fight from a brand new Liberator! Wow! Those WWII vets fought harder and harder, just never gave up.
On January 10, 1945 he completed his 35th mission over Germany and could finally telegraph his mom, “Duties completed, returning home soon.”
Not ready to give up the fight, Bill elected to transfer to the 467th Bomb Group, where he was approved for pilot training in 1945. He was transferred to San Diego, wanting to fly the “big box” transport planes. He was awaiting the training when the war ended. Bill had the option of staying for training or returning home and he chose to return home.
Thank you Bill Ward, for your service!
During WWII, the late John Francis O’Rourke, who died at 94 on Christmas Eve in 2018 served in the 42nd Rainbow Division, 222 Infantry Regiment. The regiment John was in pushed through France and Germany and ultimately was part of the occupational forces in Austria. During the drive through Germany, the 42nd Rainbow Division liberated a major sub-camp of the Dachau Concentration Camp.
Also, during a major offensive, John traversed through the German front lines to deliver a message of an impending attack to U.S. Troops in harm’s way. For his actions, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He also was a recipient of the Purple Heart Medal.
After the war, John enlisted in the Naval Reserve and served until his retirement as a Lt. Commander. John was a teacher, principal and headmaster who resided in Massachusetts for over 50 years, but enjoyed his last five years in Timberlane near family.
His son-in-law Larry Kirchner said, “When John moved to Louisiana in 2013, I began asking him for details about his service during the war. Up to that point, he hadn’t shared much of anything about his time in Europe.
“We shared a bond in that I had also served 10 years in the Army National Guard/Corp. of Engineers. One of the things I learned was that he had two good friends that he was almost sure were from Louisiana. We found some pictures he had taken during the war and that he thought were lost forever. We found a few of happier times.
“The names of these friends later came back to him and I reached them through internet searches. His two Louisiana friends, unbelievably, lived in this area. Malcolm L. Strehle lived in Gretna and Isaac Danos lived in Westwego,” Kirchner said.
Thanks for your service, John O’Rourke, Malcolm Strehle, Isaac Danos and Larry Kirchner!
Troy Landry Williams…
“I remember being a young kid and seeing the commercials for the Marine Corps and always saying that if I ever joined the military it was Marines or nothing,” Troy Williams said.
“As a child, I sent a postcard from the back of a comic book asking for a pamphlet from the Marine Corps. Apparently they noticed my date of birth and sent me a package with patches and pictures, telling me to “stay in school and contact them when I graduated high school.”
“I was working in the oilfield in 1985 when the oil and gas industry bottomed out. After being laid off, I contacted a Marine recruiter. I was told to take the entrance exam (ASVAB) to determine what level of training I could handle. I qualified for electronics training but would have to wait 3 months to start boot camp for that job. With a wife and child, I felt unable to wait that long. They told me that they could get me to boot camp in 30 days if I accepted a different job. I accepted and my Marine Corps tour of duty started in August 1985.
“I was trained to be a communications center operator. After two years, I extended my enlistment adding two more years to facilitate additional training for a new job. I was trained in electronics repair, working on radar and rudimentary computers. Those skills are with me today as a Network Administrator.
“During my enlistment, I was stationed at Beaufort, South Carolina, 29 Palms, California and Okinawa, Japan. I proudly served as a Marine for six years, ending my enlistment as a sergeant with an Honorable Discharge in August, 1991. I believe the most important asset from my time in the Corps were the intangibles, such as dedication, determination and responsibility. Those intangibles helped me move up the corporate ladder, eventually owning a network support company that has been in operation for 20 years. I look upon my six years as a Marine with great pride. Semper Fi!”
Thanks for your service, Troy Williams.
Hailey Michelle Williams, who graduated from Dominican High School, Class of 2017 was sworn into the U.S. Air Force National Guard while a senior at Dominican. She chose the Air Force because both grandfathers were airmen. She left for boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas the week before Thanksgiving in 2017.
“Boot camp is an intensive, eight week program that includes training in military discipline and studies, Air Force core values, physical fitness and basic warfare principles and skills. Boot camp was brutal, but spending Thanksgiving and Christmas as an 18 year-old away from my family for the first time ever that year was much, much harder,” Hailey said.
“After finishing boot camp, I went straight to a technical school in Wichita Falls, Texas for six months. Reserve duty is a mandatory drill at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse on one weekend each month. I am committed to serve six years. After three years of being in the Reserves, I live on my own, have a decent job and have enrolled in college at UNO, majoring in Film Arts.
“While starting my fall semester, I was deployed to Lake Charles during the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, concerned about the timing of my college classes with no sense of when we would return home. It all worked out fine. We were deployed for two weeks, our duties were to distribute much needed MRE’s, water and ice,” she said.
Thanks for your continued service, Hailey Williams! And a heartfelt thank you to all veterans and those patriots currently serving in the armed forces.
Just a tidbit – while the holiday is commonly printed as Veteran’s Day or Veterans’ Day, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website attributes no apostrophe, rather than using the possessive in the spelling “because it is not a day that “belongs to veterans,” but is a day for honoring all veterans.”