- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

FORT POLK, La. (AP) - History is documented through writing, evidenced by artifacts and sometimes, if you’re lucky, recounted by witnesses.

The Fort Polk Museum showcases the installation’s history through dioramas and exhibits that include samples of uniforms, weapons, equipment and personal effects.

Some exhibits include the personal stories of those who were there, and the new Vietnam-era display has just that - the personal touch, thanks to two veterans who were willing to donate their military items and share a little of their own histories with the world.

Carl Cedars of Alexandria, La., was drafted in 1969 and completed both basic training and infantry advanced individual training at Fort Polk. Cedars served in Vietnam from October 1969 to October 1970 with Company A, 6-31 Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. He received the Combat Infantryman Badge in November 1969, and was prouder of it than any of his other awards, he said. Cedars returned home safely after war, and worked at Fort Polk until 2012.

He recalled how the opposing forces battled with BB guns at Tiger Land, and that, “It hurt when you got hit, and it made you think about the seriousness of training.”

With his story and some of his personal military effects now displayed at the museum, Cedars said he appreciates the opportunity to share a bit of himself with the public.

“I never dreamed of anything like this,” he said. “It means a lot to me. I am proud to donate all the pictures and items here.”

Michael Belis from Lafayette, La., was drafted in 1969. He attended Fort Polk Basic Training, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Training Brigade from May 19, 1969 to July 11, 1969. He continued with AIT-infantry, and was one of two in his class of 150 graduates not to be sent to Vietnam. Instead he went to Germany, where he served with the 8th Infantry Division. Belis said he felt like he had won the lottery: His duty station was all training and no combat duty. Incredibly, with only nine months remaining on his two-year draft obligation, he received orders to report to Vietnam. There he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, and was soon out on patrol in the Delta, very much in the thick of the fighting. It was not long before Belis became a battle-hardened infantryman with a Combat Infantry Badge and a promotion to sergeant, put in charge of a squad. Fortunately, he finished his tour unscathed.

“I hope people (that see the exhibit) will appreciate what it was like for us when we were young and in the service,” Belis said.

“Fort Polk was the best place for us to get trained and I have no doubt about that. I met guys over there (in Vietnam) that went through training somewhere else and didn’t get the quality of training that we got here. We often had to teach them ourselves, based on what we learned at Fort Polk.”

“It makes me feel good - proud to have served and I am glad this is here now for others to see.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Wood, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk garrison command sergeant major, thanked both veterans not only for their contribution the museum, but also for their service to the nation.

“These are two of Louisiana’s finest veterans,” said Wood. “We lost more than 58,000 men and women in Vietnam, and this display helps us remember what they sacrificed. There are many legacies here (at the museum), from the Louisiana Maneuvers through today.

“Our post has a rich history, which is showcased here and we appreciate (Cedars‘ and Belis‘) contribution — they have donated everything you see here in this display.”


Information from: Southwest Daily News, https://www.sulphurdailynews.com

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