FORT POLK, La. — The scenic and peaceful beauty found at the Central Louisiana Veterans Cemetery, 3348 University Parkway, Leesville, is achieved with knowledge, time — and a green thumb.
James K. Armes III, former Louisiana State Representative for District 30, is the director of the cemetery and just happens to have the skills necessary to maintain the 18 acres of lawn, plants, trees and flowers as befits the veterans that rest there.
“Everything we do is for the veterans and their families. It’s not just a job to us. They are our heroes and we appreciate them,” he said.
Armes attended McNeese State University and graduated in 1975 with a degree in botany and horticulture.
After graduating, he worked for a nursery growing plants for landscaping in Beaumont, Texas, before moving home to Leesville and opening his own nursery and landscaping business. He said when he started, he had a hard time convincing people about the importance of landscaping and maintaining a beautiful yard.
“I would tell folks it was about taking pride in how their yard looked. I would landscape their property, but many of them wouldn’t take care of it like they should. I would explain that it was just like changing the oil in a car. You have to maintain what’s been planted to keep it looking good,” he said.
Those same facts hold true on a larger scale when caring for the grounds of the Veterans Cemetery.
Through Armes’ long and varied career as a business owner, politician and now director of the VA Cemetery, he has maintained his landscaping and horticulture licenses.
In addition to his administrative duties as director, Armes has taken his knowledge of landscaping and horticulture and put it to use on the cemetery property as he and his assistants work to maintain the grounds by mowing, pruning, edging and fertilizing to attain appealing results.
He said his family instilled in him a love of veterans and their service when he was a child and as an adult he served in both the Louisiana National Guard and Army Reserve. Though he never served overseas, Armes said those experiences shaped him and made him respect veterans even more.
“It makes us all feel good that we are doing something positive for our veterans,” he said.
Armes said he couldn’t maintain the grounds at the cemetery without the help of his amazing lawn care team that includes Gary Bush, horticultural supervisor, Junior Condon, Marshall Evans and Vickey Stevenson, horticultural attendants.
“They are a good crew. We are like family and I love them. They work hard,” he said. “When I get the chance, I put on my old clothes and go out there and help them mow and work.”
Armes said his goal for the cemetery property when he became director was to make it look like Arlington National Cemetery. He said he and a group of state representatives visited Washington when Louisiana was trying to get the Veterans Cemetery built. While there, he visited Arlington. It had a profound impact on him.
“When I got there, it felt like the veterans were talking to me. I got tears in my eyes. It reminds you of the sacrifices those Soldiers made for this country and for that freedom we still enjoy today,” he said.
Armes said when he became director, he felt he had a chance to make a difference.
“I want families to take pride in the beauty of this cemetery and the resting place of their loved ones. I want it to be as pretty as it can be because that’s just one way we can show our respect to these veterans. We are going to make these grounds look good, rain or shine,” he said.
Armes said the veterans buried at the VA Cemetery deserve a place of honor to rest after the sacrifices and service they gave, and their Families a beautiful place to visit when paying their respects and remembering those they lost.
“We pay attention to the tiniest detail in our efforts to keep this place beautiful. If that means picking up trash and weeding the cracks in the sidewalks, we do it,” he said.
Armes said Central Louisiana Veterans Cemetery is one of five veterans cemeteries in Louisiana, more than any other state based on population, and he also travels to the other locations to help them with their landscape needs as well.
Armes is also working on future projects to enhance the cemetery.
“Once things dry out, we are going to be putting benches in front of each location with plots so that family members can have a place to sit when they visit and be comfortable when they spend time with their loved one. I also want to eventually add a few street lights along the way for late night visitors,” he said.
Armes said there are still veterans that don’t know about the cemetery and he wants them to understand that when their time comes they can be buried there at no personal cost to them. “It doesn’t matter where you are from, if you are a United States veteran you are welcome here,” he said. For more information call the Central Louisiana Veterans Cemetery at 337.238.6405.