Incorporated in 1991, the original goal of the Louisiana Military Hall of Fame and Museum in Abbeville was to build a museum to honor those veterans from the State of Louisiana.
This coming Sunday, the first giant step toward that goal will be realized as Phase 1 of the project will open to the public. Visitors will be able to peruse the many exhibits within the museum as well as observe F-15 flyovers, parachuters and bands of all kinds.
The highlight of the day will be the inaugural induction into the Hall of Fame. Four Medal of Honor recipients from around Louisiana will be honored posthumously by becoming the very first inductees into the hall at a solemn ceremony at 2 p.m. The seven living Louisiana Medal of Honor recipients will be inducted in the future.
Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne will speak at the event Sunday, which will open the 15th such museum in Louisiana. The event will be free and open to the public; events are slated from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Chris Crusta Airport.
“Festivities making the opening of the Louisiana Military Hall of Fame and Museum in Abbeville will have significance far beyond the event,” Dardenne said. “We will pay rich tribute to our Louisiana heroes, who risked or lost their lives for others.
Organizers say about 400 family members, friends and guests of inductees will attend from all over the United States.
Next Sunday’s inductees will be Capt. Steven Logan Bennett of Lafayette, Col. Jefferson J. DeBlanc of St. Martinville, Cdr. Howard W. Gilmore of New Orleans and M/Sgt. Sgt. Homer L. Wise of Baton Rouge.
Bennett was 26 when killed in 1972 during the Vietnam War, leaving behind his wife and young daughter. A captain in the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, Pacific Air Forces, USAF, he had received an aerospace engineering degree and served in the ROTC at ULL. Entering the Air Force in 1968, he earned his pilot wings and completed B-52 bomber, and fighter, training. In April, 1972, he reported to Da Nang, Vietnam, and in June was killed at Quang Tri.
Without artillery or tactical air support, he piloted his aircraft to strafe hostile positions. After four passes, the enemy began retreating; on the fifth, his aircraft was struck and caught on fire. Knowing that the parachute of his co-pilot, Mike Brown, had been shredded, he opted to ditch the plane into the Gulf of Tonkin, knowing that a pilot in this type of aircraft had never survived that type of landing. Brown survived and was rescued. A resident of Dallas, he plans to attend, along with a number of Bennett’s family, including his daughter.
DeBlanc, a graduate of ULL, where he joined the Civilian Pilot training program and learned to fly Piper Cubs, he entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program, and in 1942, was sent to the Pacific. At age 21, DeBlanc, was a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps when he shot down five Japanese warplanes in the Battle of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on Nov. 12, 1942. Even knowing fuel was low, he refused to turn back and was forced to bail out over shark-infested waters. After swimming all night to reach an island, he subsisted three days on coconuts. He was discovered by a tribe of indigenous natives who traded him to another tribe for a sack of rice. Aided by the second tribe and an Anglican missionary, he managed to get back to Henderson Field.
After the war, he earned four degrees, including a doctorate in education from McNeese State University. He taught math and science in St. Martinville schools and retired from the Marine Air Reserve in 1972. He died at 86 in November, 2007, in Lafayette. His many family members and friends plan to attend the event.
Cdr. Howard Walter Gilmore of New Orleans became the first U.S. submariner to receive the Medal in WWII, awarded posthumously. He gave his life in a selfless act of heroism that has become an inspiring legend of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force. The expression “Take Her Down” was uttered by Gilmore, wounded, as he stood on deck of the USS Growler, under attack in Bismarck Archipelago near New Guinea. He gave the order, knowing that he would not be able to make it before submersion. His crew and submarine made it safely back to port.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, in 1926, he commanded the USS Shark, narrowly surviving an assault by a group of thugs in Panama, who cut his throat in an excursion ashore. In 1942 he took command of the USS Growler, fourth boat of the 81-ship Gatos class and sailed her to the Pacific Theater, where she engaged in three prior missions vital to the nation’s defense. Event planners are still seeking Cdr Gilmore’s friends and relatives.
M/Sgt. Homer L. Wise, U.S. Army, of Baton Rouge was one of the most decorated infantrymen in WWII. He enlisted at age 24 in 1941 and entered combat in 1943. By age 27 he had received the Medal of Honor; within one year he received 11 other medals.
In Magliano, Italy, in the summer of 1944, he was squad leader of Company L, 142nd infantry regiment, when well-trained, experienced German soldiers offered intense resistance. The day being hot, artillery fire set dry grass ablaze. Sgt. Wise and three others went into the fire-swept area to bring a wounded buddy to safety, while combating Germans. Wise later fired a rifle grenade launcher upon enemy positions causing them to flee, and boldly climbed on a tank, remedied a stoppage in the turret machine gun and fired into the enemy’s positions, allowing the battalion to continue
In 1958 Wise was one of six honorary pallbearers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He was a guest of the President at the inaugurations of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Johnson. Wise was one of the most-decorated infantrymen of WWII. He performed heroically in civilian life also, and died in Connecticut at age 57. The Homer L. Wise Memorial Committee, Inc. and family members will attend the event to honor M/Sgt. Wise.
Dance bands, food concessionaires, military static displays and flyovers are on the agenda. The Louisiana National Guard Band will perform the national anthem and “God Bless America.” Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, as the crowd is expected to be large.
The museum’s first phase features exhibits, placing emphasis on the memorial Hall of Fame area. Oral histories now being collected will be incorporated into each exhibit, and visitors will be able to hear the veterans’ stories in their own words. When completed, the museum will include all branches, all wars. Every veteran in Louisiana from as far back as possible will be recognized in a database format. Many veterans and/or their families have donated artifacts to the museum. The museum will be open to the public that day.
For more information, call 337-898-9645, or go to http://www.lamilitarymuseum.com.
Hall of Fame inductees meet rigid requirements established by the 13-member board and criteria committee. Upon completion, the museum will represent every veteran in Louisiana and every branch of service. Legislation was introduced by Sen. Nick Gautreaux (D-Meaux). Johnny Raymond of Breaux Bridge chairs the inaugural induction ceremony and Criteria Committee. Members are Lane A. Carson and Felix Weill, Baton Rouge; Louis Michot, Joey LeRouge and Don Sands of Lafayette; N. R. “Bubba Broussard Jr. and Gen. Bob LeBlanc, Board President of Abbeville; Adrian Lee Bruneau of Jefferson; Joe D. Hill from Lake Charles; Stan Wall of West Monroe; Brig. Gen (Ret), USAF Peyton Cole from Bossier City.