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MSGT Lionel Frank presents wreaths to Blue Star family members during ceremonies held Friday at the St. Landry Parish Veterans Memorial. Pictured are, from left, Clara Davis, Charlotte Miller and Beryl Sebastian.

Photo by Freddie Herpin
Chief Photographer

Contributing Writer

A solemn occasion combined with a moment of surprise joyfulness as memorial Christmas wreaths were presented to U.S. armed forces gold star family members and elected parish officials in a quiet Friday afternoon ceremony held at the St. Landry Parish Veterans Memorial.

Decorated balsam wreaths were presented to three parish Iraq and Afghanistan gold star families by retired Army Master Sgt. Lionel Frank as part of annual the Wreaths Across America program.

What was not anticipated however was an announcement made by Parish president Jessie Bellard who said he is recommending that parish government donate $100,000 in non-profit funding to help construct a welcome center that will be located at the Memorial site.

Bellard said the expenditure will be appropriated from American Rescue Act revenues that the parish is scheduled to receive over a three-year period.

Mason-Guillory, who has served as the Veterans Memorial project director since its inception, said she had no idea that Bellard intended to make the announcement for the project which is scheduled to cost about $150,000.

“This (announcement) will take about 30 years off my life and about 30 years off the life of this project. Right now I am floored,” Mason Guillory told the crowd that assembled around the center of the memorial.

Representatives of three parish gold star families were present to accept wreaths for St. Landry servicemen killed during Iraq and Afghanistan combat.

Clara Davis, mother of Army staff sergeant Craig Davis; Charlotte S. Miller and Beryl Sebastien, aunt and grandmother of Marine Lance Corporal Myles Sebastien were provided with wreaths.

Wreaths were also dedicated at the Memorial for the families of Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Reed, Army Staff Sgt. Jarred Fontenot and Army Sgt. Joseph Richard III.

Beryl Sebastien said Dec. 20 marks the 15th anniversary of Myles Sebastien’s combat death.

Frank said the ceremony was particularly personal for him since he helped train Davis at Fort Polk.

“I have always wanted to meet the mother of Sergeant Davis and now I have had that opportunity. This is a special occasion for me, since I knew Sergeant Davis personally,” Frank said following the ceremony.

Nancy Carriere, Alvin Stelly, Vivian Olivier, Wayne Ardoin and Timothy LeJeune were also presented with wreaths that will be placed at the gravesites of parish veterans of their choice.

St. Landry School Board member Raymond Cassimere accepted a wreath in the absence of District 4 Council member Mildred Thierry.

Wal-Mart general transportation manager Michael Bellchamber said the company has been part of the Wreaths Across America project since 2009.

St. Landry received its first wreaths last year and will not become a regular stop on the annual cross country transportation project in company trucks, said Bellchamber.

Wreaths Across America has grown into a national movement of volunteers and communities to remember America’s fallen heroes, according to a press release distributed by Mason-Guillory to the Parish Council.