Leesville, LA -- First United Methodist Church in Leesville held a community luncheon on Wednesday, November 20 to honor local veterans. Giving Thanks to Our Veterans was the theme of this month’s TLC Luncheon, which is part of the church’s community outreach programming. Over 80 people attended the luncheon, which included members of the church, local community members, soldiers currently stationed at Fort Polk, and veterans and their families covering an array of the five armed service branches.
The event included a potluck lunch served by members of the church, a poem read by retired Army Colonel Ron Thompson of the Baton Rouge area, remarks from retired Sergeant Major of the Army, Julius “Bill” William Gates, and recognition of service members in attendance.
Anne Causey, who coordinates the monthly luncheon, introduced Mr. Gates with a summary of his extensive career with the Army. Gates entered the Army in 1958, attending initial training at Fort Jackson, SC. During his service, Gates served three tours in Germany, two combat tours in Vietnam, and a tour in Korea. His stateside assignments include – but are not limited to – duty with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY and the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA. Gates served in numerous non-commissioned officer leadership positions during his career.
On July 1, 1987, Gates was sworn in as the eighth Sergeant Major of the Army, where he served until his term ended in June 1991. He has received countless awards, including Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star Medal with Valor, and the Purple Heart. Currently, Gates works for the Army Research Institute at the Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group (JRTC OPS GRP) and can be seen out in the field showing outside agencies the training conducted at the JRTC.
During his speech, Gates remarked that there are over 18 million veterans currently living in the United States, with the state of Louisiana considered home to almost 40,000 veterans. As part of his remarks, Gates shared with the audience that he felt simply saying “thank you” did not fully express the gratitude felt towards those who have served. He stated, “We owe our veterans a debt that can never be paid, so today my fellow Americans, instead of saying thank you, would you please stand and give a salute to our veterans?”
In addition to asking attendees to give a salute in recognition of the many sacrifices made by veterans, he requested people talk to veterans about their service. “They can provide you with information on what they experienced during combat operations that is not on record in our historical archives.”
He also remarked on the dedication, patriotism, and commitment of soldiers, sharing about his experience visiting soldiers at the Brooke Army Medical Center. There he met soldiers who, despite extensive injuries and amputations, could not wait to get back to their unit.