Old soldiers aid young men

Two days before Veterans Day, Harold Schwartz, a Navy boilermaker during World War II, stepped foot on the Holy Cross School campus, a site he had frequented many times before as a member of the American Legion Oaks Post 333, whose headquarters were at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church once located here.

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On this day, dressed proudly in his blue Navy tie and American Legion Oaks Post hat, Schwartz, his wife of 66 years Janice and their daughter Paula Powell were visiting for a different reason. They were meeting the first Holy Cross student to receive a newly created endowed scholarship established by his post.

“My daddy told me years ago that it was the wish of the members of the post to help educate the children or grandchildren of members or those in the military,” said Powell, who organized the scholarship.

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Schwartz smiled brightly when scholarship recipient, Caden Mumme, walked in the school’s development office. The 10th grader had previously attended Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Chalmette and is on Holy Cross’ wrestling team.

“It feels great to receive the scholarship,” Mumme said. “I try to be a good, moral person, and it has paid off.”

Mumme earned the scholarship by meeting its basic criteria: being a student of good moral character and in good academic standing. His parents, Jonathan and Jennifer Mumme, are in the service.

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Schwartz, 94, an American Legion Oaks Post member from his arrival home from World War II until 2015 when the post was retired, was glad to learn that Mumme’s parents are in the Air National Guard.

In the Pacific
Schwartz served on three Navy ships – the Ohio, the Arkansas and the St. Paul – from 1942-45. He joked about being at the bottom of the ship: “If you saw a torpedo coming through the bulkhead, you said a ‘Hail Mary, I’m going down!’”

He and Janice, whom he met on the President riverboat in New Orleans after the war, have two children, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He had owned S&M Ironworks, hand-forging the iron gazebo at D.H. Holmes Department store on Canal Street, the iron patio furniture at Brennan’s Restaurant and iron work at a former bishop’s home near Lake Pontchartrain, Powell recalled.

The Schwartzes mentioned living near Holy Cross in the Legion Oaks subdivision – bounded by Mirabeau, Prentiss, Paris and Cartier avenues in the Filmore neighborhood –  developed in the early 1950s by the American Legion Oaks Post 333 for military men. They fondly remember lively Post events such as Christmas parties and dances.

With the declining health of the Legion’s most stalwart members – Schwartz, the post’s adjutant, and Fred Favaloro, the financial officer – they decided to retire the post.

Powell said she enlisted the help of American Legion First District Commander Richard Bell and used an old roster Schwartz had to collect national dues to find 17 living members of Legion Oaks Post 333. They were contacted either by phone or in person to determine how to use the remaining $57,000 in the post’s bank account.

Surviving post members were made American Legion members for life, and $25,000 was donated to Holy Cross, whose president Charles DiGange turned into an endowed scholarship.

Powell said post members were inspired from a speech a post commander once made saying education means more than anything money can buy and wanted to “enhance the education and install good Christian values and the spirit of patriotism to our young people and to perpetuate the legacy of the post in all future years of Holy Cross.”

“We trusted Holy Cross to do it the right way, and they have,” Powell said of the endowed scholarship.

The remainder of the money has sponsored a tent at a Louisiana Veterans Festival at Harbor Center in Slidell; provided seed money for a fountain that the Knights of Columbus are erecting to beautify the new Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell and gone to Ozanam Inn to help the homeless. The money also has been used by the Ladies of Liberty to send care boxes overseas to active military; by Habitat for Humanity to build houses; by Elks Lodge 2321 to feed seniors; and by VFW Post 8290, among other causes.

It also helped fund a reunion in 2015, celebrating the post’s 65 years in existence, at St. John of the Cross Catholic Church in Lacombe where the Schwartzes and Powell are parishioners. It was the last time members gathered as a group. They were honored for their dedication.

“Father Gil Martin and all of the parishioners gave the eight members and families in attendance a standing ovation,” Powell said.

Powell and the Schwartzes feel gratified to be able to keep the post’s legacy remembered throughout the New Orleans area.

“The money has gone so far and wide,” Powell said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached atcbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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