Parachuting into tradition
Pictured here is retired Airborne Infantry First Sergeant from the U. S. Army Charles Perdices. He was elected commander of the Mamou American Legion last year and has brought back the Veterans Day celebration. (Photo courtesy of Charles Perdices)
By: TONY MARKS
A Mamou resident has devoted his career of 22 years to serving his country as a parachutist and a pathfinder. After his retirement from the United States Army in 1999, he has helped build up democracy in the Middle East and has served his community by rebuilding the American Legion in Mamou and its annual Veterans Day celebration.
“I always was focused on being in the military,” said the Miami native Charles Perdices. “My uncle was in the Marines, and whenever he would come home, I would always see him in his uniform. He was killed when he was 21 prior to going to Vietnam in a tragic car accident.”
“I was six-years-old, and from then on I knew what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school,” he continued. “I went into the military in 1977, and my first assignment was with the 82nd Airborne Division.”
During his first two years with the 82nd Airborne, Perdices served as a pathfinder at Fort Rucker and Fort Hood before going to Europe with the 509 Paratroopers. He said that he later “was in Haiti during the invasion. I was with the United Nations mission there working to help build and uphold democracy.”
“For my last assignment, I taught at the University of San Francisco doing the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) for the college students, and then when I retired I went to Iraq to help rebuild the new Iraqi Army,” he continued. “I was part of history building the first four battalions of infantry soldiers and then the first four officer corps.”
Perdices retired from the military in 1999 as an Airborne Infantry First Sergeant. Along the way, he met his wife who is from Mamou. Upon moving to Mamou, he joined the local chapter of the American Legion that was on the decline.
Mamou “was losing the Legion,” he said. “There was nobody showing up, and nobody wanted to be a part of it anymore. The older generation was fading out of it, and the younger generation was hard to recruit. They were about to lose the facility because it’s owned by American Legion, and I didn’t want the Legion to get disbanded like the VFW in Mamou did because nobody was showing up.”
Perdices was elected as commander of the American Legion post in Mamou last year and used his experience of rebuilding the Iraqi Army to rebuild the Legion. “When I took over last year, I got 100 percent membership which is 52 members,” he said. “This year we’re about 36 members in, and the goal is 38 to be 100 percent.”
“Then what I did last year, I submitted a letter to the American Legion corporate office in Washington, D.C., and let them know what I’ve done and that I’ve been able to meet our goals for 100 percent membership,” he continued.
“I would like to put a piece of history on our property, so I’ve been working and got approved to put a military surplus item on our property.”
As commander of the American Legion in Mamou, Perdices resurrected the annual Veterans Day celebration last year and broke some traditions along the way. “I broke the tradition of starting the parade at 11:00 a.m. because it was the 11th hour on the 11th day,” he said. “I broke it because I wanted the people to be there. It was during the week, and I knew I wasn’t going to have a big group there at 11:00 a.m. during a weekday.”
“The parade used to start at the Legion, so the kids had to walk from the Legion all the way down the back road and back down 6th Street,” he continued. “I spoke with the band director from Mamou, and she was saying that it put too much on the kids. I made it easier like all the other parades. We go down one time, and we’re going to end up at the Legion Hall anyway. As long as we are celebrating what Veterans Day is about, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. It is still a celebration to recognize the veterans who bravely served their country.”
Perdices, along with his committee, is committed to preserving other traditions of celebrating not only the veterans but also the community. “I looked at some old video about how the parades were,” he said. “It looked like everybody was engaged. It wasn’t just Mamou being there. It was the surrounding communities as well. For instance, this year I have the Basile band participating, and I have the dancers and cheerleaders from Ville Platte High School who are going to be a part of this as well. I’m trying to get everybody involved that used to be involved before and to help celebrate. We can bring our small communities together to make this a real successful event each year and to celebrate the way it used to be.”
The celebration will kick off on Friday, November 10 with Jamie Berzas and Cajun Tradition taking the bandstand in front of the Legion Hall located at 420 Main Street from 7:00-10:00 p.m. Perdices said, “Right now I have about 15 vendors that will be throughout the American Legion Hall and the possibility of another 10 vendors that will be selling food and trinkets. The American Legion will be selling beer and sodas as well.”
Lineup for the parade will be on Saturday, November 11 at 10:00 a.m., and the parade will leave Mamou High School at 11:00 a.m. and will roll down 6th Street. “We should end up over at the Legion Hall by noon to do the ceremony,” Perdices said. “We will have a DJ that will be playing while we are actually doing the parade from 11:00 a.m. to about 4:00 p.m. It will stop when we start arriving for the ceremony and will pick up after the ceremony is over. The vendors will still be up as well, and we will still be serving drinks after the ceremony.”
“We will still do the shoe box floats,” he continued. “The kids from Mamou will be getting judged on them, and we are also doing an essay contest where the kids have to be selected at their school for their best essay. We will present the winner with a medallion.”
For Perdices, the Veteran’s Day celebration is all about the community. “I’m proud to be a part of the community, and I’m proud to say that the mayor and the city council are supporting me 100 percent this year to make this 100 percent successful, so they’re giving me all the leeway I need to make it happen.”
Celebrating Veterans Day means a lot to Perdices, who is a 22-year veteran. He concluded, “I spent half of my life in the military serving my country as well as a lot of the other veterans who are serving not only on this side but also on foreign land. Being able to be recognized for what we’ve done and sacrificed is very important.”