The reflection of light can be seen on the underneath portion of the blade of the helicopter on display at the War Memorial at Evangeline Parish Courthouse Square in downtown Ville Platte. The helicopter, as well as two artillery guns, were cleaned and repainted over the weekend by soldiers at Camp Beauregard in Pineville. (Gazette photo by Raymond Partsch III)
The newly cleaned and repainted helicopter on display at the War Memorial at Evangeline Parish Courthouse Square in downtown Ville Platte is seen on Monday. (Gazette photo by Raymond Partsch III)
By: RAYMOND PARTSCH III
J.D. Soileau is proud that he fought during the Vietnam War for the country he loved, and still does love.
Soileau was part of the 1st Air Cavalry Division from 1969-70 and nearly lost his arm in combat due to artillery shrapnel. The 68-year-old veteran is not only proud of his time spent fighting overseas, but also of the work done with the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 632 in his hometown of Ville Platte which has over the years honored those brave soldiers that fought and died in the conflict.
“We are very proud of our service,” said Soileau, who serves as president of the local vets chapter. “You know 884 soldiers from Louisiana were killed in action during Vietnam. Many of them were from different parishes across the state but we had 12 right here in this parish. We are very proud of what we had done, and also appreciative of what the parish has done for us and for being very supportive of our endeavors.”
The latest endeavor was a massive cleaning and repainting of the helicopter, as well as two artillery guns, that are on display at the War Memorial on the Evangeline Parish Courthouse Square.
With a monetary donation of $500 from the Evangeline Parish Police Jury, the use of road blocks from the City of Ville Platte and manual labor courtesy of the Louisiana National Guard Unit from Camp Beauregard, the old Vietnam-era troop carrier received a much-needed face lift last weekend.
“I am very pleased with what our National Guard unit from Camp Beauregard in Pineville did for us,” Soileau said. “Through letters to Major General Glenn H. Curtis (Adjutant General for the Louisiana National Guard) in New Orleans we were able to have Camp Beauregard look at the project and give us a time frame when they could do it. We purchased the paint with the money that our Police Jury thankfully donated to us, and we got the road blocks that the city gave to us. After that, the boys at Camp Beauregard were just waiting on some good weather to do the work. It really turned out great.”
Police Jury President Ryan Ardoin also expressed his gratitude for the restortation work that was completed this past weekend which will further honor those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The Evangeline Parish Police Jury was happy to work with Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 632 and the Louisiana National Guard Unit from Camp Beauregard to have the helicopter monument and two WWII anti-aircraft guns that rest on the courthouse grounds refurbished,” Ardoin said. “These monuments are a strong symbol of the sacrifices made by the brave men and women from our area who fought in these wars to protect our freedom, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
The crew from Camp Beauregard first utlized a crane and pressure washed the helicopter on Thursday, then removed any old decals and taped off all the glass on Friday and then finally was able to paint it all on Sunday.
The helicopter, a Huey model, was originally acquired via a donation by the U.S. Army to the local veterans chapter nearly 21 years ago.
“We found it in Alabama and had it hauled over here on an 18-wheeler,” Soileau remembered. “It was a chopper used in Vietnam. You know a lot of these choppers were returned to the states and distributed here and there.
“When we got it, the chopper was solid orange back then because they were using it as a training helicopter. So we had to go get it but we had to pay all the permits to transport it, even had to take the main rotary wing off and the main skids. We repainted it here in the old Pete Ford building at that time and then put it on display.”
This isn’t the first time the helicopter has received some cleaning and repairs. Soileau estimated that about 12-15 years ago, soldiers from Camp Beauregard actually removed the helicopter off the pedestal and cleaned it and repainted it on base in Pineville, before returning to remount the memorial.
For Soileau, seeing the helicopter and guns once again shine like new is a way of keeping the vision of the local veterans chapter alive and well.
“When our chapter was charted in 1992 we envisioned all of this,” Soileau said. “From having a monument set up and everything. It was important to us then to have a remembrance of our war that we fought in, and that still holds true today.”