While Roger Carson, president of the Brazos Valley chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, told the story of the four Army chaplains who gave their lives to help save others as their troop ship, USAT Dorchester, sank from a torpedo, Anne Coleman quietly listened.

As Carson explained how the VVA’s Legion of Honor Award honors those whose efforts to help veterans display the spirit shown by the four chaplains, Coleman continued to listen, notes ready in front of her to present later during Tuesday night’s VVA meeting at the Disabled American Veterans Hall at 927 Gardner Dr.

But when Carson announced that he was there to present Coleman with the prestigious award, the normally well-prepared Coleman was caught completely off-guard.

“I was surprised and overcome with emotion when I was called to receive this wonderful award,” Coleman said later.

According to information on the VVA Web site, the Legion of Honor of the Chapel of the Four Chaplains “is awarded for outstanding, sacrificial volunteer service to one’s community and fellow human beings without regard to faith or race in keeping with the spirit of sacrifice of the Four Chaplains,” Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.

Organizers had worked hard to keep the award a surprise.

Because previous Legion of Honor Award winners and chaplains may nominate someone to receive the award, Coleman’s husband Joe and local VVA chapter president Allan Ayo had contacted Carson, himself a Legion of Honor Award recipient, to ask him to consider Anne for the honor.

They cited her efforts locally to honor the community’s veterans, which Carson described to those attending Tuesday’s ceremony.

“Anne Cohagan Coleman, of Palestine, Texas, has faithfully served God and her country through numerous civic, church and philanthropic endeavors for many years,” Carson said. “A devout Christian, she has served on the board of directors of the local YMCA for a number of years and as past president of the Museum for East Texas Culture. A daughter of a career Air Force Lt. Colonel, she developed an insatiable hunger for service to the veterans’ community.

“In honor of her father’s service, she rescued an F-100 aircraft due to be cannibalized at her own expense, donated the aircraft to the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum in Tyler, Texas, and assisted in its renovation and restoration for static display. She was a driving force in bringing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to Palestine on Veterans Day 2007 in honor of her father and other Vietnam veterans on the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. and the second anniversary of her father’s passing.”

As Carson attached a commemorative pin on Coleman’s VVA associate member vest, he congratulated her, saying, “You are very deserving of this award.”

Ayo, who worked with Coleman in coordinating the Veterans Day events last November, said he was thrilled to see her efforts rewarded.

“You can’t hardly express it with words,” Ayo said. “Anne is so special to us for all her time and effort that she puts into veterans’ affairs. It’s just unbelievable. This award just kind of tops it off. It’s such a prestigious award and we’re so happy to see her win that. She just is so deserving. There’s no person in this community who cares more about the veterans and veterans’ affairs than Anne Coleman.”

For Coleman, the award is especially meaningful. Her father, Lt. Col. Paul M. Cohagan, flew F-100A Super Sabre jets over Vietnam while she was a child and her experience growing up in a military family left her appreciative of the sacrifices made by the servicemen and women, and families, for their countries.

“The Legion of Honor award represents four chaplains that gave their lives saving others when their ship was torpedoed in 1943,” she said. “I thank God for people like these men but I also stress that it doesn’t require losing ones life to help people.”

After her father died, Coleman said her mission became establishing the Veterans’ Historic Education Center, which led her to become involved with veterans’ groups like the DAV, American Legion and VVA Chapter 991.

“I’ve also had the privilege of being able to directly assist a few local veterans returning home from Iraq,” Coleman said. “I still have a lot to learn but find that is best accomplished by working side by side with them. It’s also helped me to further understand the anger my father possessed after Vietnam.”

Being involved with veterans’ groups has made her more aware of how the organizations can serve their members’ needs, she said.

“I’ve also learned that veterans’ organizations have a responsibility to do everything in their power to take care of soldiers that are presently serving and have already returned home,” Coleman said. “There are no exceptions. These organizations should never become social clubs or self-centered power games. They must be completely dedicated to veteran support. It doesn’t matter who you are or your position in life, we all owe these people our very lives.

“It takes hard work and commitment to help veterans but I have to admit, receiving this award really makes the work worth it just because someone said thank you. I have a continuing mission and am committed to making good things happen for all our local veterans and their families. Most of all, I thank all of them for their service and thank God that I am able to be there for them. They are the heroes. We can never repay their sacrifice.”

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Beth Foley may be contacted via e-mail at bfoley@palestineherald.com

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On the Net:

Vietnam Veterans of America, http://www.vva.org

The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, http://www.fourchaplains.org/programs.html

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