OPELOUSAS — There were probably more hindrances than Patricia Mason-Guillory could have imagined 10 years ago when she first conceived of initiating a St. Landry Parish Veterans Memorial.
No blueprints or steps on how to proceed were available, but Mason-Guillory said she knew there was a need to honor parish residents who have served in the military.
There was only a vague vision, one created without funding or a place large enough to sufficiently honor those parish residents who, beginning with World War I, have served their country, Mason-Guillory said.
“At one point, it became a trial, then a challenge. Four years ago, it became my passion,” she said.
The memorial, now complete through the help of volunteers, private donors and St. Landry Parish government, will be dedicated Wednesday on a 2.5-acre site several miles south of Opelousas on La. 182.
The ceremony is set to begin at 6 p.m. with the unveiling of a bronze statue of a kneeling solider resting above a white marble memorial wall containing the names of parish servicemen killed during wars of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Mason-Guillory said parking around the memorial property is limited, so shuttle transportation will be provided from the Equine Center complex on Guilbeau Road between La. 182 and Interstate 49 beginning at 4:45 p.m.
The bucolic setting of the memorial is partially shaded by a large live oak tree, with a walkway of bricks leading visitors to the wall.
Mason-Guillory said the memorial bricks, which contain the names of parish residents who served in the military, were sold to assist with funding and were placed there by volunteers.
Walkways encircling the memorial are paved and lighted, with benches positioned near the wall and war monument.
Flags representing every U.S. military service branch overlook the memorial.
Mason-Guillory said her effort began shortly after Army Staff Sgt. Craig Davis died with several others on Jan. 8, 2004, when their Blackhawk helicopter was shot down near Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Davis, a 37-year-old Opelousas resident, was serving with the 603rd Transportation Company, 142nd Corps Support Battalion based in Fort Polk.
“I wanted to do something to honor him and his 20 years of service in the military. As I talked about having a monument dedicated to his service, people began asking me to develop a larger project that would honor all the servicemen from this parish,” said Mason-Guillory, who is the St. Landry Parish School System’s parish involvement coordinator.
“I now had an extension of my original memorial plan, but when I went to parish government and Parish President Don Menard with the idea of supporting the project, it was there that the council members asked me to take on the challenge of honoring all veterans from (St. Landry).
“They pledged to help, and I began to get support from the VFW and American Legion chapters, and a Veterans Memorial committee was created by parish government to help with the project,” Mason-Guillory said.
Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino in Opelousas originally offered to lease a portion of its land between U.S. 190 and Interstate 49 for the memorial, but it soon rescinded the proposal, citing corporate policy.
For several months, Mason-Guillory said, she was concerned about the success of the effort, which already had begun selling the bricks containing the names of the servicemen, their branches of service and the wars in which they were involved.
Harvey Darbonne, a Vietnam War veteran and memorial committee member, said the project began to collect momentum several years ago after Opelousas businessman Bobby Dupre offered to donate a land parcel to use as the memorial site.
“That was the turning point. Before that, we had a project, but we didn’t know where we were going to put it,” Darbonne said.
Dupre said he became aware of the committee’s dilemma when he was “sitting one morning at the Palace Café (in Opelousas) reading the newspaper and I learned in an article of the complications of getting the property leased for a dollar a year from Evangeline Downs. Before that, I had no idea.
“The casino apparently had problems with leasing the land to a government entity. I was drinking coffee with (Darbonne), and I asked him to drive out with me to some property that I owned.
“It was accessible, located on a highway and Harvey thought it would be a good place, easy for the public to get to. I was just trying to help the community, and a veterans memorial is something that has been needed,” Dupre said.
He said his next step was to inform Mason-Guillory of his decision to donate the property.
“She was in Texas when I called her, and she started crying on the phone,” he said.
Darbonne said parish government has agreed to maintain the property.
“Now that there is going to be a unveiling and a dedication, I look back and see that it’s been a real task to bring it all together,” Darbonne said. “There have been several people who have been working almost daily for years and lots of support from the public.”