PONCHATOULA — Continuing a pledge to place a monument in every cemetery where a veteran of the Vietnam War is buried, members of Chapter 1052 of the Vietnam Veterans of America dedicated a space at the Ponchatoula Cemetery the Saturday before Memorial Day.
A large crowd, sprinkled with several dozen veterans, gathered at the cemetery to witness ceremonies marking the establishment of the monument honoring those who saw action in the Vietnamese War.
The monument is near the Avenue of Flags maintained by Post 47 of the American Legion. Volunteers raise flags along the long avenue on occasions marking the service of the nation’s veterans.
Rich Ludwig, of the VVA Chapter 1052, which is also known as the Raymond “Mike” Clausen Chapter, said his organization was instrumental in having monuments built at cemeteries in Tickfaw and Independence earlier and were honored to add the latest monument to the growing list of such spaces.
The chapter’s adoption of Clausen’s name honors a U.S. Marine who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor while saving the lives of fellow comrades under heavy fire in Vietnam. Clausen, who died several years ago, is the only Medal of Honor winner from Tangipahoa Parish. He is buried in the Ponchatoula Cemetery.
The monument to Vietnam War veterans is mounted on a concrete pad and features the traditional tribute to a fallen soldier: a pair of boots holding an upturned weapon crowned with a battle helmet. It also has a plaque honoring Vietnam veterans, twin flagpoles and two benches where visitors can rest.
In welcoming the visitors to the dedication ceremonies, Ludwig said all showed their care and concern for veterans by taking the time to attend the ceremony and by pausing to remember the sacrifices made in defense of the nation.
Keynote speaker was Joey Strickland, director of the Louisiana Department of Veteran Affairs. Strickland said Louisiana counts about 330,000 veterans, and more than 11,000 veterans of the Pelican State have been killed in battle. “I love all veterans, and I especially love the veterans of the Vietnamese War because I am one of them,” Strickland said.
Strickland said it is important to erect monuments to veterans and to hold special times to remember them so their sacrifices are not forgotten.
“If we don’t tell our children what our veterans have done for our nation, then, in time, those great deeds that have made this country great will be forgotten. We must pass on to our children the necessity of respecting and caring for our veterans,” the director said.
Tangipahoa Parish President Robbie Miller said the ceremony was important day for Tangipahoa Parish.
“It is my hope that those who visit this monument we erect today will take the time to reflect on what our veterans have done to preserve our great nation,” he said.
Miller, reflecting on the memory of Clausen, said the parish government’s newest facility, a multipurpose building near Hammond, was recently dedicated and named the Raymond “Mike” Clausen Building to honor the fallen marine. “It is unfortunate that we didn’t honor Mike sooner, but we have now paid him the tribute he was due because of his proven heroism in battle. As a Medal of Honor winner, he deserves the recognition that we have given him,” Miller said.
The bronze plaque central to the monument was donated by Tangipahoa Parish residents Ronnie and Monica Mayeaux, who also donated funds for the two earlier monuments in Tickfaw and Independence.
Ludwig said when the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter began its quest to erect monuments to Vietnam veterans in local cemeteries, they looked for financial assistance, and the Mayeaux couple came forward with their donations.
Before unveiling the plaque at the monument, Ronnie Mayeaux said he was “proud to support the Vietnam Veterans of America.” Mayeaux said that while he did not serve in uniform, his family has “deep roots” in the military. Mayeaux said his father and brother served in the U.S. Army, and his nephew is serving in the U.S. Army.
Ludwig closed the dedication ceremony by repeating one of the goals of the Vietnam Veterans of America, “Wherever we have a Vietnam veteran buried, we want to have a monument and a plaque marking that service. … This is the least that we can do for those who did so much for every one of us gathered here today.”