Posted: Oct 25, 2010 5:59 PM
Updated: Oct 25, 2010 6:00 PM
Today, Governor Bobby Jindal awarded 324 veterans from St. Mary Parish with the Louisiana Veterans' Honor Medal at the PattersonCivicCenter in Morgan City. Governor Jindal was joined by Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs (LDVA) Secretary LaneCarson and Major General Bennett C. Landreneau, Adjutant General of the Louisiana National Guard, to award the state's veterans with a special medal in honor of their service in the Armed Forces.
Governor Jindal said, "Today, we honor these brave men and women who served our country. While these heroes span different generations, different battles in different places at different times, they are united by a common cause - their love of country, their honor and their courage. These medals represent our appreciation for their heroism and lives of service."
Governor Jindal signed legislation in 2008 to create the Veterans' Honor Medal Program in order to recognize and honor all of Louisiana's veterans. The program is managed by the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. The Veterans' Honor Medal is gold-plated and comes with a blue ribbon. One side shows the state of Louisiana with "United States" embossed above and "Armed Forces" below.
The other side bears the words, "Louisiana appreciates your service to our country." Veterans who sustained a wound in battle will receive an honor medal designated by a silver star and a purple ribbon. Families of veterans who were killed in action will receive an honor medal designated by a gold star and a gold ribbon.
While awarding the medals, Governor Jindal told stories of medal recipients to highlight the heroic acts of Louisiana's veterans. Walter Kumiega was born on November 8, 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Inspired by his brother who was a bomber in World War II, Walter joined the US Air Force in 1955 because he wanted a career in avionics in the military.
He served for four years in the Air Force, leaving in 1959 to attend Northrop Institute of Technology in Los Angeles, CA where he finished with a certification in Airframe and Power Plant Technology in 1961. Later that same year, as the Berlin Crisis escalated, Walter again felt the call to serve his country and joined the US Army in October of 1961. He worked in the field of Army Intelligence for three years and trained to fly helicopters in the Army's helicopter flight school. He trained for several years, earned many certifications, and was sent to Vietnam in July 1967. He survived the 1968 Tet Offensive when almost 50 percent of US pilots were shot down and/or killed.
On June 16, 1968, Walter was patrolling in a helicopter and received word that US troops on the ground had come under heavy fire by insurgent forces and they needed immediate air support. In spite of heavy enemy fire directed at his aircraft, Walter made numerous low altitude passes over enemy positions to determine their exact locations. As he remained over the area to assist with evacuation operations, Walter suddenly found himself subjected to intense small arms fire from the enemy on the ground below.
The medical evacuation helicopter carrying a fallen soldier was forced to leave the area, leaving Walter as the only aircraft able to support the US forces. Forgetting his own safety, Walter continued to fly over the battlefield and directed artillery fire onto the insurgent positions, silencing the enemy and enabling the medical evacuation helicopter to return and safely evacuate the remaining wounded men. When he received word that the US troops' supply of smoke grenades was running low, Walter immediately flew in a re-supply by landing directly on the battlefield to unload the cargo.
Through the remainder of the battle, Walter continued to supply tactical information to men on the ground. Because of Walter's support from the air, US forces were ultimately successful in their mission. Walter was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism for his efforts that day. He was also awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Vietnam Service Medal with six campaigns, among many others.
Walter retired from the Army in 1981 after nearly 26 years of service. He moved to Louisiana that same year and went to work with Air Log as a helicopter pilot in the offshore industry. He retired from Air Log after 25 years with over 20,000 hours of flight time in his aviation career. Walter and his wife Beth reside in Centerville with their four-year-old grandson.