A word from Curt
- Stay Curious
- Never Cease to be Amazed.
- Share Remarkable Stories.
The following story, from our second book, The Old House, always moves me when I read it again. It really happened and I was there to see it. Read it and help celebrate a birthday.
A Remarkable Story: The Corporal and the Colonel
When I came to work at Dry Creek Camp as a thirteen-year-old, one of the first people I met was the camp night watchman, Howard Vidrine. “Bro. Vidrine,” as we called him, lived in the Evangeline Parish village of Reddell, a suburb of the unique Cajun town of Mamou.
For the next forty years at the Camp, as I progressed from dumping trash as a teen staffer to (amazingly) becoming the camp manager, Howard Vidrine remained a part of our Dry Creek family. A lifelong bachelor, Bro. Vidrine had his own cabin we’d provided and came and went as he pleased.
By the time of the following story, 1998, life had taken a toll on Howard Vidrine’s health. He no longer drove, and our camp staff transported him between Reddell and Dry Creek. He spent most of his days sitting in the dining hall, visiting with staff and guests alike.
That November, just after Veteran’s Day, a delegation from Fort Polk, our nearby Army base, visited the Camp. They were looking at our facility for future staff retreats. The group was led by Colonel Jason Kiamaya, commander of one Fort Polk’s regiments. Colonel Kiamaya was accompanied by the base’s top NCO, Sergeant Major Clarence Harmonson, and two other men—the post chaplain and an enlisted driver.
After their tour of the camp, we walked to the dining hall for lunch. Entering, I saw Bro. Howard Vidrine sitting at a window staring out across the campgrounds. Bathed in the bright sunlight, he looked even older and frailer than his eighty-plus years suggested.
I pointed out Bro. Howard to Colonel Kiamaya. “See that man by the window—His name is Corporal Howard Vidrine. He served in World War II fighting German tanks and troops across North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He was on the front lines of all of the major battles of that campaign. Near Pisa, Italy, he was severely wounded and that ended the war for him. He has a purple heart and all of the campaign medals.”
Colonel Kiamaya studied Howard Vidrine for a long time. No one moved or said a word.
The Colonel said, “I want to meet him.”
I called Bro. Howard and he slowly shuffled over, dragging his feet as his house shoes made a scuffing sound. He hadn’t shaved in several days, and his clothes hung on his body like a scarecrow.
However, I was proud to introduce him to this group. “Colonel Kiamaya, this is Corporal Howard Vidrine of the United States Fifth Army under the command of General Mark Clark. He fought at Kasserine Pass, Palermo, and Anzio.
The Colonel stepped forward and snapped off a crisp salute. “Sir, in respect and honor for you and your service to our country in its time of great need, I insist you precede us in the dinner line.”
Bro. Howard, being the humble (and stubborn) man he is, waved him off. However, the Colonel, a man used to giving commands, would not relent. With great deference, Colonel Kiamaya led Corporal Vidrine through the serving line first. I’ll never forget the sight of the highly decorated officer walking behind Corporal Howard Vidrine.
We all sat together for the meal. The soldiers with their sharp uniforms, shiny medals, and insignia sat gathered around Bro. Howard. The conversation around the table was special and made me, as a non-veteran, feel like an outsider. The camaraderie among these military men was both warm and real.
As I walked away, I glanced back at the green and khaki uniforms sitting in a circle of honor around an old World War II vet, a member of what is often called “The Greatest Generation.” Here sat one living example of the men who rose up from the woods, plains, mountains, towns, and cities to defend our American freedom during a pivotal time in history.
At the door, I looked again, through tears, at Bro. Howard’s face. Maybe it was the sunlight on his face, but he was no longer an old lonely dying man. Although only a corporal, he had the look of a man among other warrior-soldiers, all united in their commitment to our wonderful country.
Epilogue: Within two years, Howard Vidrine was dead. As befitting, he received a full military funeral as he was buried near the rice fields of his beloved Evangeline Parish.
About that same time, Colonel, now Brigadier General, Jason Kiamaya returned to Fort Polk as the commanding general of the entire base at Fort Polk.
Today would be Howard Vidrine’s birthday.
He lived a simple life, never marrying, and only leaving Louisiana for his military career. Last week, I drove through Reddell and couldn’t find the old tattered house he lived in. Like Howard Vidrine, it was gone.
Happy birthday, Bro. Howard.
You are not forgotten.
Rest in peace, Corporal Vidrine.
Rest in peace.
Howard Vidrine is now survived by only one sibling, his sister Lena Vidrine Roach, of Lake Charles. Mrs. Lena is a published author and the mother of longtime Lake Charles mayor, Randy Roach.
Brother Howard is also survived by a generation of workers at Dry Creek Camp who loved and cherished his friendship.