Louisiana Veterans Festival A Big Success
By James Ronald Skains
The 2nd annual Louisiana Veterans Festival was held at the St. Francisville Sports Park Pavilion on Friday November 8 and Saturday the 9th. The Vets Fests primary sponsor is the Louisiana Veterans Foundation organized and chartered in 2012. Its mission is to provide financial aid to family members of both veterans and active duty military.
The Vets Foundation chose one of its own as headline entertainer for the November Festival, Craig Morgan a country music singer with 10 top ten hit songs. Morgan served over 10 years of active duty with the 101st and 82nd airborne units plus 9 years of Reserve duty. A large crowd greeted Morgan on Friday night at the sports Park.
“The Louisiana Veterans Foundation is a 501 C (3) organization qualified as a non-profit with the IRS,” Tom Hildebrandt told the EXPLORER. “We operate with an 8 member Board of Directors. Our mission is simply to help financially the families of veterans and active duty military personnel. This is a group of people we owe so much to but need our help on an ongoing basis.”
During the years from 1972 through 1980, Hildebrandt was a naval submariner. One of the mission of the sub he was assigned was to escort the aircraft carrier Enterprise on some of her numerous deployments at sea. After his naval career, Hildebrand worked for the Entergy Corporation before retiring. Hildebrandt also currently serves as the Commander of the St. Francisville American Legion.
“Last year was our first Vets Fest. We didn’t know quite what to expect,” Hildebrandt acknowledged. “We had over 5,000 people come out over the two day event last year. I think we will top that or at least equal that attendance number this year.”
“We are looking for new members for the foundation and to spread the word on the mission of the Louisiana Veterans Foundation,” Hildebrandt stated. “We are also looking for more sponsors, both individuals and corporations.”
Apparently the work of the Foundation has spread beyond the borders of Louisiana. Two members of the “Miss-Lou Vets Homes” from Natchez, Doug Barfield and Tim Rushing were observing the La Vets Fest.
“Our goal in Natchez with the Miss-Lou Vest Homes, is first to provide a central location whereby veterans can come apply for their benefits at a one place instead of having to go to several different agencies,” Rushing explained. “Too many veterans get disgusted with the system and drop out that requires them to go around in circles from one agency to another. This will be one stop shopping so to speak for them.”
“We are considering sponsoring an event like this in Natchez. The Louisiana Vets Fest is truly an amazing accomplishment. The second stage of our mission would be to provide temporary housing for vets and their families in the Natchez area at a central location.”
The Louisiana Vets Fest actually kicked off on Friday at 1200 hours when the Gumbo started cooking. Sam Politz, well known DH kept the music going to inspire the Gumbo cookers. At 1700 hours, the first of two official ceremonies was held. A welcome address was given followed by an invocation, the presentation of colors, pledge of allegiance and the National Anthem. Julia DeJean sang the National Anthem.
At 1730 hours, the gumbo was served after the judging of the chef’s gumbo creations was completed. The Alaina Richard Band entertained the crowd during dinner. Craig Morgan, whose latest album is titled “This Ole Boy,” began his crowd pleasing entertainment at 1900 hours.
On Saturday morning, the Vets Fest started with a full ceremony with Julia DeJean again singing the National Anthem. However, a POW/MIA ceremony was held with Bagpipes and Drums adding to the solemnity of the occasion.
The Angola Prison Band performed at 1000 hours followed by WWII/Korea/Vietnam Vets awards. Chuck Vincent with Eagle Air of Lafayette provided a spectacular flyover in a T-6 WWII vintage aircraft. The Richard Family and the Andrews Sisters provided entertainment before the US Marine Band from New Orleans took the stage.
Other entertainers on the program during lunch hour were Scott Clemens and the Josh Garrett Band. Lunch was BBQ and Jambalaya which started out in a cooking contest on Saturday morning.
The Vets Fest also conducted Silent and Live Auctions fundraisers during the festivities. A MASH 911 / EMS unit provided free blood pressure checks throughout the two day event. The Louisiana Women’s Veterans League was on hand with their display commemorating ladies from Louisiana who have served our country in uniform.
A Flag Burning Ceremony was conducted by a local Boy Scout troop. The KC Color Guard closed the two day fest at 1600 hours on Saturday.