ABBEVILLE – For General Robert J. LeBlanc, one of Louisiana’s most decorated military veterans, November marks his birthday, ”he said from his home on Wednesday. “And exactly on my birthday, 76 years ago, November 6, I was discharged from active service in Europe during World War II.”
At the time, in 1945, when the Allies defeated the Nazi regime, he was only a 24-year-old officer. A few days ago he turned 100 as a retired general.
“For me, Veterans Day is about freedom. It says it all, ”he said. “Now we think it happened automatically, this freedom. But this is not the case. We had to fight for it, and we cannot forget it.
The life and service of the general is what service means. LeBlanc left college one semester away from a math degree in 1943 when he volunteered for a secret mission to Europe with the Office of Strategic Services. “I said yes in the blink of an eye,” Theneral recalled. “And I would do it again. “
During his years in Europe, his knowledge of Cajun French was vital.
“During the training, they taught him what the differences were between the uses of Cajun French and the habits of European French,” said Denise LeBlanc, one of the general’s daughters. “He told us several times that he was surprised that the French in Europe used utensils, like forks and glasses, in a different way. They ate differently. They behave differently.
But the French had something in common with his Louisiana origins. “Especially in rural areas, in France, they spoke the same way he spoke when he grew up in Louisiana.”
After serving during the war as a liaison officer between General George Patton’s Third Army and the French Metro, LeBlanc was transferred in 1945 to the China-Burma Theater. He served as a special operations officer with the OSS detachment in China.
If Abbeville now has a National Guard unit, it is to him that his soldiers can say thank you. “When I returned to Louisiana, General Tom Bonner asked me to form a National Guard unit here,” LeBlanc said. He recruited 19 men and received official federal recognition for the H 156th Infantry Regiment Company in February 1947, before being promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1956. He was then appointed general in 1967 at the age of 46.
“If I think about it, I will divide my career into two parts,” he said. “When I served as a fighter, and when I served as a public servant promoting the values that motivate us.”
Abbeville, where the retired general lives, maintains close ties with those who served in World War II. In 2009, completed construction of the Louisiana Military Museum at the Chris Crusta Memorial Airport. Starting today, Abbeville will host the 1st annual Veterans Heritage Festival, a three-day event to honor the memory of veterans.
“We celebrate Louisiana’s military history with the Louisiana Military Museum as we unveil our all-new exhibits and provide hands-on living history demonstrations that honor our veterans,” the festival said on its website. The festival is free and open to the public, and all donations will support the Louisiana Military Museum.
For veteran families like LeBlanc’s, Veterans Day celebrations are a way of respecting life.
“I don’t take my freedom for granted, thanks to what my dad did,” said Denise LeBlanc. It took a long time to understand the true meaning of his father’s service. “I learned what it means to give, protect and be disciplined,” she said. “That’s what Veterans Day means to me.