World War II U.S. Navy veteran Frank Masanz, 92, looked smart in his black dress uniform Tuesday as he led about 200 people in the Pledge of Allegiance at the Old State Capitol.
The old House chamber was filled nearly to capacity as friends, family and Baton Rouge residents celebrated Veterans Day with speeches, music, fellowship and food.
“I don’t miss any of ’em,” Masanz said of attending Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Pearl Harbor Day ceremonies.
As a chief boatswain’s mate, he managed the delivery of troops and equipment in Landing Ship Tanks, LST’s, from ships to shores around the Mediterranean Sea in the European Theater.
“We took ’em to the beach — opened the bow door, the ramp, and told ’em to ‘go, go, go,’ ” Masanz said with a laugh. He served for 40 years before retiring from the Navy.
Charles Carmena, 93, sat in front in his wheelchair wearing his World War II Army jacket, holding his brown felt drill sergeant hat. He served in Europe, said his daughter, Catherine Carmena Daylong, and he was in Paris the day the war ended.
“I thought it was great,” Carmena said about the service. “We get to see old friends — we don’t want to forget.”
The ceremony began when the Donaldsonville Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps color guard posted the colors.
Sponsored by the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum, in partnership with Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler and the Old State Capitol, Kidd Museum Director Alejandra Juan emceed the service. Juan is the first female director and the first veteran to serve in the post.
When she asked all the veterans to stand, about half of the audience did so while the rest applauded.
“Our veterans are living examples of what it means to lead by example,” Juan said. “They have given us a lifetime of service, and our country has been enriched by their service. Thank you for your service, your sacrifice, and our nation salutes you.”
Juan, who served 14 years with the Louisiana Air National Guard and earned the rank of captain, acknowledged that the families are actually the heroes, especially the children who persevere while their parents are away on tours of duty.
Major Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, Louisiana National Guard, said over 43 million veterans have served their country since the Revolutionary War, and there are currently over 330,000 Louisiana veterans.
“We are very blessed to be surrounded by these heroes who heeded our nation’s call,” he said.
“Each generation, America has provided men and women with a conviction and a deep sense of sacrifice in service to our nation,” Curtis said. “Those are the men and women we celebrate today.”
There are 180 Louisiana National Guard troops now deployed in Kuwait and Afghanistan, “combat engineers who clear roads of mines and (improvised explosive devices) — very dangerous work,” Curtis said, and another 187 will deploy later this year and early next year. “They are always ready to do whatever our state asks them to do.”
Janice Johnson sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” the Rev. Rene Brown, of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church, prayed the invocation and benediction, and proclamations on behalf of Gov. Bobby Jindal, Schedler and East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden were read by their representatives Mike McNaughton, Joe Salter and Gail Grover.
During the playing of a medley of the service anthems, members of each service stood as their song was played over the loudspeakers and they received a hearty round of applause. The Donaldsonville Air Force ROTC chorus sang “God Bless America” and the room jingled with the bells of the MLK Kid’s Bell Choir playing “America” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
A mournful bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace,” played by Kent Howard standing high above the crowd in the balcony, was followed by the similarly mournful rendition of taps on a bugle played by John Wilbert, also from the balcony.
Jerry Forstater, 71, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran, 1964-1989, drove up from New Orleans for the event. The highlight of his service, he said, was humanitarian — delivering supplies to those in need around the world.
“When you see a veteran, thank him for his service,” Forstater said. “When you see an active duty (member) in uniform thank them for their service — because you don’t know what they go through — the sacrifice they go through being away from their family.”