Skip to comments.Slidell thanks Marines who've helped rebuild
Posted on 09/21/2005 5:38:56 PM PDT by alnick
SLIDELL - They expected to see devastation. They anticipated horrific scenes of overturned cars and homes swallowed by water. But after nearly two exhausting weeks of working 12-hour days to help clean Slidell and area schools, the 100 or so U.S. Marines camping at Bonne Ecole Elementary School never expected to see a Mardi Gras parade. Then, on Friday night, just as dusk faded to night, the stereo receiver clicked on. Zydeco music shot through the parking lot where the Marines gathered, and several Slidell Rotary Club members burst through the school's doors dressed in lavish Mardi Gras attire.
The Marines erupted into hoots and hollers, waving white towels in circles above their heads.
Amidst the chaos of rebuilding Slidell, city and school officials and community members took a breather to honor the unit from Camp Pendleton, Calif., with a Mardi Gras Cajun-style sendoff complete with Cajun tunes, beads and spicy shrimp before it leaves to train for a tour in Iraq. Their counterparts, about 50 Navy Sea Bees and 130 U.S. National Guardsmen, could not attend the thank-you party.
Dubbed "Angels in Uniforms," the sendoff was organized in less than a week and collected enough funds to cook 50 pounds of beans, 40 pounds of sausage, 100 pounds of cornbread and 40 pounds of fruit, in addition to chicken and other fixings, served by candlelight out of the school's cafeteria line.
Dr. Joan Archer of Slidell introduced the idea at a recent Slidell Rotary Club meeting. Despite desperate financial situations for many, not one propositioned donor turned her down, she said. The idea came to Archer after a she returned home to see the damage reeked by Hurricane Katrina. About 13 trees smothered her home, concealing it from recognition. Close to 30 more littered her yard. She nearly "fell apart."
A friend tried to console her. "Joan, don't be afraid. There will be angels around every door you open," she was told.
The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived shortly thereafter. They noticed the rubble and offered assistance. Within 24 hours Archer could see her home again. Her angels had arrived, she said.
"I didn't know angels wore fatigues," she said. "I just had to think of a way to thank them."
She enlisted her son, Rex Archer, a chef in training at Restaurant August in New Orleans, to cook for two days straight to deliver a wallop of spicy, Cajun delectables. Over a loud speaker in the cover of night, Joan introduced him as the chef.
"What would have taken us six months to do, it took you a day," he said in a loudspeaker to the Marines gathered in the dark.
Again, a cacophony of hoots and hollers burst into the air.
Back inside, goose bumps shot down the arms of Cpl. Franki Doerr for the umpteenth time during the past two weeks. Standing in the school's entranceway, he had been listening through the open doors.
"I was overwhelmed. You don't know what to expect. I've never seen devastation like this," he said.
Doerr, a Marine from Tacoma, Wash., was lounging on his couch during a one-week leave at his Washington home when he got the call from his commanders.
He had the option of finishing his leave in front of the TV or being deployed to the Gulf Coast.
He packed his bags.
"There was no way I couldn't go and miss out on this," said Doerr as an attractive smiling 20-something walked by and draped Mardi Gras beads around his neck. "You feel nothing but pride when you come to help. I've had goose bumps the whole time. I guarantee I speak for everyone in the unit."
St. Tammany Parish school deputy superintendent Trey Folse commended the unit whose efforts in cleaning several schools helped allow public school students to return Oct. 3.
"It would have been impossible for the students to return without the help of the military," said Folse. "We're forever grateful."
For many huddled at the Mardi Gras party at Bonne Ecole Elementary, getting schools back on track was just a portion of their worries. Slidell City Councilman Ray Canada was just trying to get through the day with a smile.
"These are the good things that lifts your spirits," he said over Zydeco music in the background. "We say if you don't laugh twice a day you're in trouble."
All those within an earshot distance laughed. It's about time, Canada said.
Slidell Mayor Ben Morris, once a military officer himself, addressed a group of Marines last week at Bonne Ecole Elementary School. He presented them with a Slidell flag in appreciation for their work helping clear the streets and schools of Slidell. (Staff Photo by Matthew Penix)
I suspect that there are a number of schools down there, which, unlike their Berkeley counterparts, would never dream now...of banning military recruiters from their school grounds.
You're right. Slidell is very conservative. It's a great little community.
wow, I went to that school for a little over a year of my life (ok, it was about 22 years ago or so, lol) man, I loved that Happy's chicken place down the road. I hope people were able to get out of town before Kat hit.
I think Happy's is long gone, but most of the residents here either got out of town or survived the storm. Last I heard, six bodies have been found, so it could have been worse.
Slidell ping (I owe you one). :o)
yeah, I drove thru there a couple years back and it was gone.
What a nice, wonderful story! Thank you so very much for remembering, alnick, and pinging me. This is just grand!
Oh, I remember. Your Slidell pings helped me through some dark days when I had no idea if I even had a house to return to. Thankfully, my house received only minor damage.
I'm so very glad for you, alnick, and was happy to help in any small way. Now we have to worry about our Texas friends.
Yes, I'm praying hard for them.
What a great thing to do. Those guys will remember that the rest of their lives.
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