LaGrange High School class of 1961 alumni, current school leadership and the Junior ROTC honored its Vietnam War veterans during a ceremony at the school Thursday.
Michael Tritico, class of 1961 alumnus, coordinated the ceremony. He said the idea came to him after his classmate, the late Tommy Sims, revealed he never received a "thank you" upon returning home from the war.
"I said, ‘Tommy, I heard of that happening in California, but not here.' He said, ‘Yeah, nobody here told me thank you. Nobody anywhere told me thank you.' I said, ‘Tommy, I'm telling you right here, Thank you,' " Tritico recounted.
Darryl Fontenot said he enlisted in the Army, but many in the class were drafted as the war intensified over time.
"Army, Navy, Marines — a lot just went in because of the patriotism," he said. "It was the patriotic thing to do, and my unit got called up to Vietnam."
Tritico said those who fought in the war made a huge sacrifice.
"Because they went, a bunch of us didn't," he said. "Fortunately, all of our guys came back alive. Lake Charles High lost several of the class of ‘61."
Fontenot said he was proud to see LaGrange's Junior ROTC program alive and well.
"In the ROTC program, a young person can learn about the country, government (and) patriotism," he said. "At the same time, they learn discipline, and that's very important. Whether or not they make the military a career or not, they start developing skill sets."
JROTC instructor Ernest Turner, CW04, said veteran sacrifice is a major part of the course's curriculum.
"I make sure these young people know exactly what your sacrifice means," he said. "They're going to represent the future like you represent the past."
Samuel Baynes, LaGrange principal, guided alumni on a brief tour of the campus. Guests shared memories of the past, including the Sputnik satellite launch, former principal John Mims and championships in basketball, football and track.
"This was a special group, and it kind of set the tone for LaGrange," Baynes said while pointing to Mims' portrait.
A plaque recognizing the Vietnam War veterans will hang in the school's lobby.