Gielen showcases ‘Freedom Plaza’ to Rotarians

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Gielen: ‘Positive thing to represent our country’

About 21 months ago, in March 2012, John Dan Gielen and others like Mike Donahue, Ronnie Thibodeaux, Merrick Gautreaux and Jack Woodson, began working on a way to show some patriotism near its Shop Rite No. 85 store in Duson.

It started with the search for a 120-foot flag pole and morphed into a veterans memorial.

“We were talking and wondering, ‘Why don’t we put a nice flag here to show some respect for our country’,” said Gielen.

As to how a flag atop a very large flag pole became a full-fledged memorial, Gielen points to divine intervention.

“God was working behind the scenes with us,” he said. “I could feel it.”

Woodson presented a video that showed off scenes from the plaza on the day of its dedication, Nov. 12, 2012. It showed scenes from the ceremony and featured patriotic music and helped Gielen explain the aesthetics of the location.

Since the dedication, Freedom Plaza’s Wall of Honor has had two additions, a panel dedicated to Arthur de la Houssaye and a panel dedicated to Sgt. Clement Thibodeaux, who’s remains were returned to Church Point in 2013. 

The addition of 24-hour-a-day patriotic music has also occurred, according to Gielen, and officials hope to add something new to the plaza each year.

Freedom Plaza features the originally sought after 120-foot flag pole holding a flag that measures 30 feet by 60 feet. A star that’s tips leads to pedestals for each branch of the military is featured and the flags of the various branches of service also wave in the plaza. There is also a monument that features the names of deceased veterans from St. Landry, Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia parishes.

Donahue explained that a girl in the office was tasked with going online and contacting various government agencies to acquire and check the names. They decided to start with World War II.

“It took some time to get all the names,” he said. “We felt a little like Santa Claus — we checked the list more than twice. We probably checked it four or five times, making sure of the name, its spelling and so forth. We didn’t want to offend anyone by misspelling their loved one’s name.”

The monument features 600 names, but there is room for additions as they become warranted and necessary.

“It has been a wonderful experience,” said Gielen, “and it is a positive thing to represent our country.