Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect the following correction, which will appear in the July 10 print edition. Louis L. Duvernay was the first African-American pilot instructor on Fort Stewart. A headline on a front-page article June 26 incorrectly stated that he was the post's first African-American pilot. Also, state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said during the ceremony dedicating the pilots lounge at MidCoast Regional Airport that as of 1976, there had yet to be an African-American working on Fort Stewart above the rank of GS-4. The wrong rank was given in the article. The Coastal Courier regrets the errors.
Community leaders, family and friends gathered Monday at MidCoast Regional Airport to dedicate a new pilots’ lounge in honor of Louis L. Duvernay.
A native of New Orleans, Duvernay was born in 1936, the son of Louis B. and Agnes Cecile Lee Duvernay. After graduating from high school in Louisiana, he joined the Army, beginning as a member of the color guard. Duvernay rose the rank of chief warrant officer and became the first African-American pilot instructor at Fort Stewart.
"I remember the time when Louis rolled into town … Mr. Suave, Mr. Cool," state Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said as the room erupted in laughter. "But he was a great man and involved in every aspect of this community."
Williams explained how, in 1976, community and civil-rights leaders met with the secretary of the Army to point out what they felt was racial inequality in the military. Williams said there had yet to be an African-American working on Fort Stewart above the rank of GS-4.
As a result of the meetings and community input, Duvernay was named the first African-American pilot instructor. Williams said Duvernay was the right man, that he set the perfect example of leadership for those who followed.
Williams pointed out an L-19 Bird Dog aircraft parked outside the airport’s main building. The Cessna L-19 was the first all-metal, fixed-wing aircraft ordered by the Army and used during the Korean and the Vietnam wars. It is the plane Duvernay flew and on which he gave instructions.
"One of the things that had always stuck with me about Lou is that he was always the calm person in the room," former Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said.
Thomas said he met Duvernay and his wife, Rosemary, in 1977.
"He taught me patience," Thomas said. "He was the kind of man who would listen and at Fort Stewart, at that time, we needed someone who would listen. We needed someone who was calm because everyone was on edge. … He knitted the races together instead of separating them. … I am very proud to have known him."
"Liberty County and Fort Stewart, I want to say thank you for honoring my father," said Marquitta Duvernay as she wiped away tears.
She said her father was an incredible man with a great work ethic she could proudly say was carried over to his children and grandchildren.
In the audience, the Duvernay family huddled together. Rosemary sat next to Duvernay’s sister Louise Duvernay-Smith. The two comforted each other as kind words were spoken about his military career and kinship.
"This is such a blessing," Rosemary Duvernay said as she walked into the lounge.
Pictures highlighting Duvernay’s military career hang on the walls.
"I thank God and all my family and friends in being here today and honoring him," she said. "These memories and recognizing him. … It’s such a blessing."
"I am so overwhelmed," Duvernay-Smith said.
She said her brother died in 2000, and the family had been hoping for this kind of honor for Louis Duvernay. She said most of the family had come from New Orleans, and she was going to spend as much time as she could inside the lounge.