Dixon still awed by ‘Wreaths’ events

Published 1:00 am Saturday, January 2, 2016

By Emma Dixon, For The Daily News

During some down time over the Christmas holidays since I was unable to visit my daughter and grandsons in Indiana, because of recent health procedures and large expenses related to repair of plumbing and pipes at the family house where I now reside, I found unexpected time to do some leisure reading.

The downtime afforded me the opportunity to read “Washington Through a Purple Veil, Memoires of a Southern Woman,” by Lindy Boggs with Katherine Hatch. Lindy, as she was affectionately called, was the wife of Louisiana Democratic Congressman Hale Boggs. She was an influential force in American politics and chaired numerous organizations, including John F. Kennedy’s and Lyndon Johnson’s inaugural ball committees.

After her husband’s death, she was his most likely successor who served from 1973 through 1990. Ms. Boggs was a formidable woman and spearheaded legislation on issues ranging from civil rights, to credit access and government service pay equity for women. These issues are also dear to my heart. Of special note, Lindy was the first woman to chair the Democratic Convention, when she presided over the nomination of President Jimmy Carter.

In reading the book with enthusiasm and great interest, I noted midway through the book a reference to the connection between the issue of voting rights and the Boggs family. Lindy stated that it was not just her, and their daughters Cokie and Barbara who pushed Hale to vote in favor of voting rights but also Hale’s mamma and her mamma, and grandmother — four generations of them who urged him to vote in favor of Voting Rights.

Ms. Lindy stated that they had been working on extending voting rights since the 1930s; Hale she said, believed that all people should be able to vote on their form of government and the candidates of their choice, especially with so many Louisianan blacks being sent to Vietnam. He thought she said, it was simple justice and people should be able to vote on the wars in which they were going to fight. Wow, I was impressed.

With that in mind, I received special pride this year as Bogalusa site coordinator in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War at the fifth “Wreaths Across America” event in Bogalusa at Bogalusa Cemetery. When I first began serving as Bogalusa site coordinator of the Wreaths Across America program in 2010, shortly after moving back to my hometown of Bogalusa, I was amazed at the larger number of graves of veterans at the Bogalusa cemetery. A dear friend reminded me this occurred back in the day of the draft and many African-Americans were drafted and had to serve in the military.

I read from the “Remembering the Vietnam War — 50th Anniversary Commemoration” from the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, authorizing the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The commemoration stated that many Vietnam War veterans did not get the homecoming they deserved. They served honorably and bravely — like generations of veterans before and after — and now our nation is taking the time to remember them with a series of Vietnam War commemorations.

The Wreaths Across America program agenda at Bogalusa Cemetery afforded me the opportunity to recognize the many in the African-American community whose lives were touched by the Vietnam War. Many of the members of Bogalusa Toxie C. Camp #32 of the DAV served in Vietnam, including Fred Magee, commander; and Calvin Johnson, former commander. Elbert Buckley Sr., of the VFW, who has supported WAA with flags from the VFW chapter in Pearl River is also a veteran of this war.

Janice Pigott, who lost her twin brother during the war gave touching remarks during the program, sharing the loss of her brother during the Vietnam War. Donald Ray Nichols, another Vietnam Veteran from the Angie/Varnado community, sang “God Bless America” in a rich baritone befitting the occasion.

I’d like to offer a special thanks to Kalisa Hyman at International Paper, who made special arrangements to assure the mill’s whistle was blown at 11 a.m., in synergy with the noon Eastern Time ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

We also rededicated the sign of the poem “Facing It,” by Bogalusa native and Pulitzer laureate Yusef Komunykaa. That poem mentions the name of Andrew Johnson, the first resident of Bogalusa and Washington Parish to be killed in the Vietnam War. The sign was rededicated and moved to the location near the flag pole.

A photo of Curtis Thompson, a disabled veteran, Bogalusa native and resident, and friend of Wreaths Across America who recently donated to the pizza party for the Bogalusa High School JROTC cadets recently shared with me a very dramatic photo of his time in Vietnam — a young man defending his country with bravery, courage and honor during the Vietnam War. That photo emphasizes the heroic contributions of many of Bogalusa’s native sons. Thompson served in Bong Son, Central Highlands Vietnam with the 61st Assault Helicopter Company.

There were so many volunteers and community who have contributed and supported the Bogalusa Wreaths Across America program over the last five years and I extend heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of them.

There is no statute of limitations for honor, and we all need to remember and appreciate that. I agree and think it’s a great effort and initiative that the U.S. government decided to embrace the Vietnam veterans community and commemorate the service and sacrifice they endured on behalf of our nation.

Emma Dixon is the Bogalusa Wreaths Across America site coordinator.