It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”
-U.S. Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf
It's been said that there are no stronger bonds than those formed between men who have served together in combat.
Some of those men were among about 50 who gathered on a corner of what was once Alcee Fortier High School in New Orleans on a recent Saturday afternoon.
Fortier is now named Lusher Charter School, and a tall iron fence surrounds the building. The crowd was there to place a plaque next to a tree planted earlier to honor one of those men, First Lt. Layne Joseph Romagosa, who died in Vietnam in 1971.
“Everything was army to Layne,” recalled his Fortier classmate John “Jack” Vincent. “At Fortier, I was the drill team commander. I knew I could always depend on Layne. Whether it was at practice or at some event in which the Fortier drill team was participating, Layne was there and was looking his best.
"I was proud to know him. It’s not that he was only a great soldier, he was ... a sacred son of New Orleans. We lost him way too soon. What a waste of a leader.”
After graduating from Fortier, Romagosa went on to graduate from LSU in 1969 with a degree in history. He was commissioned through the LSU ROTC program and was eager to enter combat in Vietnam.
“They actually tried to get Layne to stay in Panama, where he was training in jungle combat,” said classmate Lane Carson, former head of the Office of Veterans Affairs under then-Gov. Bobby Jindal. Carson also served two terms in the Louisiana House of Representatives. “Layne wasn’t interested. He wanted to go into battle in Vietnam. He even contacted (U.S. Rep.) Hale Boggs."
The year after he graduated from college, on Sept. 21, 1970, Romagosa was in Vietnam's Bien Ha Province, leading a column of men, when he spotted something suspicious up ahead.
As he went forward to investigate, a landmine went off, detonated by the Viet Cong. The men were warned, but Romagosa was killed. He was 23 years old.
For his bravery, Romagosa was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal. His body is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery.
Jack Vincent, commander of Company A in the military class at Fortier while Romagosa was commander of Company B, acknowledged it took a long time for the first lieutenant's schoolmates to honor him.
“Who knows how these things happen?" Vincent mused. "A name is mentioned and someone asks a question, and first thing you know, we realize we missed somebody who was huge in life. Well, we’ve righted that wrong.”
Carolyn Zeller, previously Scherer, was a sponsor of Romagosa’s B Company.
“He was the dedicated soldier, no doubt about that,” Zeller recalled. "I got a khaki uniform and I marched with the companies in Mardi Gras parades, and when we had the military ball, I’d be invited to attend. It was a tremendous amount of fun. But I didn’t know the first thing about marching. Layne said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll teach you. Just watch me.’
"He was always right there to help, to answer any questions I might have. Quiet and easy-going, but dedicated to everything he did.”
Alcee Fortier High School was closed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, reopening as the middle and high school campus of Lusher Charter School.
Fortier's list of famous graduates is long: Pulitzer Prize winning "Confederacy of Dunces" author John Kennedy Toole, former Gov. Dave Treen, NFL Hall of Fame player Aeneas Williams, to name a few.
A tree now grows at the former Fortier campus and a plaque sits as a reminder to add Romagosa's name, a soft spoken, baby-faced young man, to the list of those who gave their lives so that others might live.