Claude St. Julien

Claude St. Julien

By Lori Kerns, AFRH-G Librarian

Claude St. Julien was born on April 21, 1933 during the Great Depression.  His family lived in the community of Broussard located outside of Lafayette, LA.  His father, a WWI veteran, and mother raised Claude and his seven siblings, five brothers and two sisters, on their farm.  For him, country life was very different from city life.  He and his siblings were raised knowing the difference between having and not having.  When he got a little older, he didn’t want to have some of his city friends over because he was embarrassed of where he lived.  It came as a surprise to him that once his friends finally came over; they had a great time because he had so many animals and other things to play with on his farm that his friends had never owned.  They kept asking to come back.

Around 1943, Claude’s family left Broussard to move to the city of Lafayette.  City life was a big adjustment for their family.  His family would also have to adjust to three of the brothers going off to fight in WWII.  When he got a little older, he decided to help support his family.  He dropped out of the 10th grade and worked for a food company unloading box cars.  His work eventually took him to Houston, TX.  This is where was when he was drafted in 1953 in the 24th Infantry Division, Taro Leaf Unit.

Claude was sent to boot camp at Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky at the age of 20.  He became a shoulder weapons expert with the M16, M1 rifle, and M1 carbine.  He was then sent to South Korea to fight in the Korean War.  He was moved all around South Korea for eighteen months.  During this time, he trained with Sylvester St. Cyr, who was a two-time boxing champion and coach of the championship team while on duty in Korea.  Claude was trying to make the Golden Glove in Korea.  St. Cyr felt that he had natural ability.  In 1955, when the armistice was signed he was able to leave Korea.

He decided to go to night school to get his GED while working at a hospital in Lafayette from 1955-1958.  In 1958, duty called again and he went into the Air Force.  The Air Force decided that since he had prior experience and weapons expertise, the best field for him was civil engineering.  His first duty station was Orlando Air Force Base.  There, he got deployed for hurricanes and other weather occurrences under the name “Prime BEEF” (Base Engineer Emergency Force).  When he had to go for combat related responsibilities, the team was called “RED HORSE” (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer).

It was inevitable that he would get sent to fight in Vietnam.  In 1968, he was deployed to Nha Trang, Vietnam as part of the Tet Offensive.  He was disturbed to see so many people sent to the area without weapons, including him.  He recalls one tragic instance when he was on his way to work and a North Vietnamese man and woman on a motorcycle rode by and threw a grenade hitting his coworker.  Claude was unable to do anything to defend himself or anyone else because he had no weapon.  He was able to leave Vietnam in 1969. 

When he arrived back home in the States, he went to Maine where he stayed for four years as NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of plumbing.  After leaving Maine he went back to Louisiana to England Air Force Base.  While at England, he got deployed to Diyarbakir, Turkey as a TRCO (technical representative of the commanding officer) as part of the 1975 US Arms Embargo against Turkey.  Once he returned in 1976, he decided he would like to retire.  He retired from England Air Force after 23 years of military service.

He enjoyed his retired life for a few years until 1980 when he found out that he had been exposed to Agent Orange while he had been in Vietnam.  Due to his exposure, he had developed cancer in his larynx, or voice box.  At the time he was working as a security guard so in the morning he would go have radiation treatments and then go to work for the rest of the day.  His cancer has been and remains in remission.  He’s had other complications and surgeries due to the exposure to Agent Orange but thankfully has pulled through those, as well.

Claude was married at one time.  From that marriage he has three daughters and one son.  Sadly, one of his daughters has passed.  He has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  If you ask him, he’ll proudly show you pictures of his beautiful grandchildren.

As a native Louisiana native, Claude enjoys fishing even though he doesn’t get to do it very much anymore.  And since he’s from the Lafayette area, he definitely knows about great food!  He’s also a current member of the Tuskegee Airmen Club – Lawrence E. Roberts Chapter (Keesler Air Force Base).  When asked about life at AFRH-G, he said, “I love living here.”