CADDO PARISH, La. (KMSS) – As we head into July 4th weekend, we’re looking back on the life of a local veteran who’s well-known in our community.
Ken EppersonSr. has served as a Caddo Parish Commissioner for 23 years. But before that, he served his country during pivotal times, unequal for many.
“That’s always been my forte to take care of veterans. I thought that was the best thing that one could do is go in and serve their country,” said Epperson, who serves as chairman of the Veteran Celebration Committee and District 12’s Caddo Parish Commissioner.
Epperson is well-known in Caddo Parish for his work with veterans and the community. Born in Winnfield, La., Epperson and his parents moved to Shreveport in 1958. Days after he graduated from high school in 1965, Epperson enlisted in the U. S. Army. He was 18 years old.
“I took my basic at Fort Polk. Took my training at Fort Ben Harrison, Indiana. Was transferred to Frankfort, Germany where I was in the financial, accounting and personnel department. Stayed there two years and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant E 5,” Epperson said.
He was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam era, from 1965 to 1968.
Although in July of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, it took the world – and the military – a few years to catch up.
“I went in 1965 to 1968 segregation was in place,” Epperson said. “We couldn’t sleep in the same hotels as white soldiers. We couldn’t eat in the restaurants with the white soldiers. We couldn’t go to certain places in town with the white soldiers back then.
“You’ve probably heard veterans say we went to Vietnam, we came back and those hippies spit on us, couldn’t wear our uniforms. But guess what I tell them we were spit on twice. You couldn’t go in a place or sleep in a place … but you could go die,” Epperson said.
He reflected on the unequal treatment black soldiers faced during that time.
“Guess what? I wasn’t bitter. Of course, you know in the 60s’ it was very violative, they had race riots and all that. Matter of a fact, when I was at Fort Polk a few months before getting out, Martin Luther King was assassinated. They made all the blacks stay on post, because they feared we were going to rebel. All those things we had to go through. Oftentimes that made us feel that we weren’t as patriotic as other people,” Epperson said.
But that was not the case for Epperson, whose patriotism was recognized and awarded. Some of his honors included receiving the National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the M-14 Sharpshooter Markman Medal.
“I served faithfully. When I got out, I got involved in the community. I got involved in the process where we could change the laws,” he said.
After being honorably discharged, Epperson spent the next 25 years serving his community. He worked with youth, and he worked with the elderly and got politically involved, Winning all seven of his elections to the Caddo Parish Commission.
“If things are going a way you don’t think they should, the best thing to do is become involved,” Epperson said.
And Epperson did. He became a voice for veterans. He became a part of committees that established the Veterans Memorial park on Clyde Fant Parkway and was instrumental in the 2011 creation of the Veterans Celebrations Committee that oversees the Veterans Parade in Shreveport.
Epperson is determined to keep the sacrifice and heroism of veterans at the forefront. “Even before the Constitution of the United States was signed, there was the Continental Army. June 7th, 1775 under General George Washington. Even before Independence Day. So therefore our motto at the Veterans Celebration Committee – Veteran’s America’s heroes,” he said.
Every day should be veterans day,” Epperson said.
And Epperson doesn’t just ‘talk the talk,’ he ‘walks the walk.’ He was instrumental in the expansion of the Northwest Louisiana Veterans Cemetery, and by doing so was able to bury his father, a highly decorated World War II veteran, there, fulfilling his father’s final wish.
As with all his endeavors, to fulfill his father’s wish, Epperson did his homework, learning that although Louisiana had almost 400,000 veterans, the existing veterans’ cemeteries in the state were filled to capacity.
Armed with that knowledge, Epperson led him on another quest to make sure all Louisiana veterans had access to their proper resting places. He lobbied Louisiana and Washington D.C., garnering grants and donated land from Caddo Parish to expand the cemetery.
The cemetery now has enough land for 20,000 additional burials with land for more expansion if necessary. The cemetery is reflective of Arlington National Cemetery in D.C. and veterans receive full military honors when they are laid to rest.
“It’s not a show for me. It’s a job, but it’s more than a job. They deserved that honor and respect.”
Epperson says his inspiration to push forward comes from his late father, a fearless man, and uses that drive to continue advocating for veterans.
And the legacy of Epperson and his father continues in the Epperson family. Epperson’s children – three sons, along with daughers and daughters-in-law – all serve or have served in the military.
We’re honored to say Ken Epperson is our Today’s Hero.