Soldier honors WWI veteran grandfather
December 3, 2008
As dusk approached the Arsenal's skyline, a bugle blasted "Retreat" over the hills and the American flag came down the flagpole. As the flag descended, a group of Soldiers met it, caring for the flag as they always do.
But this retreat was different. Outside the 59th Ordnance Brigade headquarters, a small group of onlookers gathered to pay respect to another Soldier, one who had proudly served his nation 90 years prior. The flag which flew that day was his flag. It was with him the day he was buried and had remained cased since that day.
But for this one day, Nov. 18, his flag flew with pride.
Capt. Bernita Briggs, a member of 59th, found some interesting papers revealing her grandfather's discharge date. Her grandfather, William Dennis Lavergne Sr., who died in 1976 at age 84, left the military Nov. 18, 1918 after serving in World War I. Briggs decided to pay tribute to her late grandfather by asking to fly his burial flag on the anniversary of his discharge.
"His flag had never been flown before and has remained cased since his burial," Briggs said. "I came across some papers which stated my grandfather's discharge dates and I realized the date was coming up and that it was 90 years ago he was discharged. So, I asked if it could be flown to commemorate his service.
"Now that I have his burial flag (which was handed down to me from my mother) and am serving under that same flag, I feel a connection that I draw strength from to face everyday challenges," she said. "(My grandfather) served during World War I and as an African-American I'm sure he faced challenges especially during that era. To know he proudly served his country gives me honor, strength and pride to serve today under that same flag, just as he did.
"Family means a lot to me and to know that my grandfather went before me, as far as serving in the military, he helped to lay the foundation of my military career," Briggs added. "So to get to honor my grandfather and my family like this, 90 years after he was discharged from the Army, is humbling to me as a Soldier and his granddaughter."
As her grandfather's flag was being cased, Command Sgt. Maj. Reginald Battle, command sergeant major for 59th, took the flag back to a tearful Briggs and her 14-year-old daughter, Lanie.
"This day was a big part of our family history and to have my daughter there to be a part of the retreat ceremony was emotional," Briggs said. "She was born well after my grandfather had passed but now she gets to learn how important her great-grandfather was as a Soldier in the military."
Battle handed the flag back to Briggs and whispered a message to her. He said, "The history and struggles of family men during that time is unimaginable, sometimes forgotten. But I know it's men like your grandfather that laid the foundation for men like me to get where I am today. I am honored that you asked me and so glad that I was able to show, in a small way, my thanks to him and so many others."
Briggs said the whole day her grandfather's flag flew was special.
"When the flag went up that morning, I called my mom to tell her what was happening," Briggs said. "She said that if my grandfather was here to see that, he would be so honored and proud.
"And from where my desk sits, I have a clear view to the brigade's flagpole," she continued. "Often, the wind's not blowing and the flag rest on the pole, but (Nov. 18) the wind was blowing and the flag flew proudly the entire day. It was very emotional and quite humbling for me to know that flag is a part of my family and is gracefully blowing in the wind."
As the onlookers began to depart, Briggs gathered the Soldiers who cased the flag.
"My message to the Soldiers who were on flag detail was 'thank you,'" she said. "Flying the American flag is something that we do as part of our military heritage and for them to take such great care and render such respect to this flag really meant so much to me. I truly appreciate their service on this special occasion. They touched the very treads of my Lavergne family's military history.
"This whole experience was amazing for me," she said. "Growing up, he never really talked about his time in the military. Now that I'm serving, I have so many things I would like to ask him. My grandfather was a very proud man and it would be interesting to see him as a Soldier. (If he was here,) I would tell him thank you for contributing to my life. He has instilled in me such great honor and respect and I have grown to appreciate him and his service."
Through her tears, Briggs said, "To see the flag come down off the pole brings back memories of his passing but I can case the flag now knowing it had proudly flown during my time in service almost a century after his. It's a feeling of accomplishment, his accomplishment."