More than 200 people crowded into the atrium at the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum on Monday to commemorate those who gave their lives in military service to this country.
Karen Miller, of Baton Rouge, had a couple of reasons to come downtown for the annual Memorial Day ceremony.
Like many, she has a personal connection. She said she went to school with U.S. Navy Lt. Michael Scott Lamana, who died in the Pentagon, one of five Louisiana natives who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Miller didn’t come by herself. She brought her three sons.
“My husband’s a history buff, watches the Military Channel, and my kids love that kind of stuff,” she said.
She said it’s the least she can do.
“It’s an hour of your day to come and pay your respects,” Miller said. “I mean it’s very little for us to do for what they’ve given us.”
Maury Drummond, director of the USS Kidd Veteran Memorial & Museum, told the crowd he was happy to see several families such as the Millers in attendance.
“They have to grow up coming to things like this,” Drummond said. “Train ’em early, I say.”
The ceremony itself was punctuated by a speech by Mayor-President Kip Holden.
Holden contrasted veterans who faced gunfire in service to their country with the violence that surrounds today’s street criminals.
“They (veterans) took a bullet not from some jerk or thug on the street,” Holden said. “They took a bullet to save the life of someone else.”
Edward Times, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Baton Rouge, said it can be hard sometimes to persuade people to come out to veterans’ ceremonies.
“You know how people are,” Times said. “They got their own agendas. We get a better response from a veteran than just ordinary people because they know men in battle.”
Times said he was in the U.S. Army and fought in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, a battle immortalized in the 1992 book, later made into a movie, “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young.”
“They need to know freedom is not free,” Times said.
Joe Jenkins, who also served in the Army in Vietnam and lives in Baton Rouge, said he started coming to the USS Kidd activities a decade ago when he was appointed to the museum’s board. He said until then, he was unaware of all the things the museum does.
“Once I realized it was here, I began to make all the events,” Jenkins said.
Webster and Ruth Reed’s son, Jonathan, was killed in Iraq in January 2005. Webster Reed wore a lapel pin with his son’s picture on it. Both were dressed in patriotic attire.
Like others, the couple, who live in Krotz Springs, said not everyone wants to come to these kinds of memorials.
“Everybody, they busy,” Webster Reed said.
Ruth Reed said that Baton Rouge has just one of many ceremonies that are held on Memorial Day, so families of veterans and soldiers killed in wars get pulled in different directions.
“We try to get in as many locations as we can,” Ruth Reed said.
Mike McNaughton served in the Louisiana National Guard, and in 2003 he lost his right leg in Afghanistan.
He said he rode his bike 15 miles from Denham Springs to the USS Kidd, stopping to pay his respect at a couple of military cemeteries along the way.
McNaughton works for the Louisiana Office of Veteran’s Affairs, and said he’s seeing a slight increase in participation at events like Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony.
“It seems like people are giving more to charities, and they’re coming out more,” McNaughton said. “It’s more of a family thing now. I think that’s really a good thing to teach them.”
Claudia Billiot, of Denham Springs, came with her husband, Shane, and two children to remember her sister, Marisol Heredia, who died in 2007 in Iraq. After the ceremony, she went to place flowers next to her sister’s name on a commemorative wall near the USS Kidd, and then she went to the Port Hudson National Cemetery to visit the grave site.
Billiot, who also served in the Army, said she feels a sense of healing at these ceremonies.
“It’s honoring, remembering her, sharing her legacy, her story. Somebody has to do it,” Billiot said. “I’m her big sister. She followed in my footsteps.”
She credited McNaughton’s help in persuading her to come. She acknowledged, though, that some families of soldiers killed in wars find it all too hard.
“Sometimes it’s hard for them to come,” Billiot said. “They still haven’t been able to get over it … they’re not ready for all this.”