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11-11-05, 06:09 AM
Marines, 92 to 28, share history
Anniversary of Corps' founding, Veterans Day commemorated
Baker-Zachary bureau

JACKSON -- Residents of the Louisiana War Veterans Home combined two anniversaries in military history with a salute Thursday to all its veterans and a birthday party for its Marines.
The U.S. Marine Corps was founded on Nov. 10, 1775. In keeping with tradition, the oldest Marine at the party took the first piece of birthday cake and passed it to the youngest Marine in attendance.

The honors this year went to 92-year-old Sidney White, a resident of the home, and 28-year-old Sgt. Steven Dearman, an Iraq War veteran and an active-duty member of the Marine Corps Reserve weapons company in Baton Rouge.

"I joined in 1932," White proudly told the large crowd attending the annual Veterans Day program.

White later said he served more than four years on active duty, then served 10 years in the reserves, including duty in World War II.

An expert in demolitions, White said he was sent to the Philippines to help prepare its people for war if the Japanese invaded the islands.

"What was ironic to me was that I was training Moros to blow things up. We'd been fighting them rascals since 1898," White laughed.

White was referring to Muslim tribesmen who fought running battles with American forces for years after the Spanish-American War ended.

Maj. Jason E. Smith, also with the Marine Reserve unit and a Silver Star winner in Iraq, said military service is a unique experience, so much so that it's hard to understand what makes a young person go through rigorous training and then "go out at get shot at."

"It only makes sense if you look at how those actions affect other people," Smith said, adding that America's military is a force for good.

"For all of us on active duty, I want to wish you all the best, and I hope we're carrying on with what you've done before us," Smith said in his closing salute to the assembled veterans.

The Jackson nursing home, one of three in the state strictly for veterans, had 153 residents on Thursday, including one woman, said Dr. Paul W.L. Jones, administrator.

The residents range in age from 49 to 94, and World War II veterans, although their ranks are thinning quickly, still account for about two-thirds of the census.

As the oldest of the three state homes, the Jackson facility is licensed for 245 beds but operates with 161 at this time.

Jones, a podiatrist and Navy veteran, said the U.S. Veterans Administration supports a set number of nursing home beds in each state, depending on its veterans population, and the Jackson beds were cut as the state opened homes in Monroe and Jennings.

The unused space in the home came in handy during Hurricane Rita, as 46 of the 88 Jennings veterans home residents were evacuated to Jackson, along with 21 staff members of the Jennings facility, Jones said.