By DON STINE
Veteran’s Day is always a special and emotional day for Ocean Township resident Lois La Pointe Keily whose father was killed during World War II when she was only two years old.
“I never heard my father’s voice. There were photographs of him, and I know his handwriting from the letters he wrote to my mother. But I always wondered how he sounded. Did his voice reflect the French-Canadian dialect of his parents’ speech? Or did it have a masculine North Jersey sound to it? Was he soft spoken or a deep baritone?” she frequently asks herself.
But Kiely will never know because her father, Louis La Pointe, was killed in a battle north of Rome in 1944 during World War II when she was an infant. LaPointe enlisted twice before he was finally accepted into the U.S. Army.
“The war was raging and, like most of his friends, he felt duty-bound to defend his country. He shipped out filled with hopeful idealism, but he never returned home. I became what the government called ‘a war orphan,’ ” Keily said.
So, it is very understandable that these questions and feelings come to the forefront for Keily every year around Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day.
“Veteran’s Day is very meaningful to me,” she said.
Keily has written the story about her experiences growing up as a war orphan in the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul for Military Families.” She donates any proceeds she gets from the book to local charities and nonprofits.
Last year she laid a wreath for the American War Orphans Network in a veteran’s park in Phoenix, Arizona, where she winters.
But Keily said as tragic as her father’s death was for her and her mother, is not a sad story.
“It is about friendship, loyalty, and keeping promises,” she said.
After the war, La Pointe’s friends from Jersey City’s DeKalb Avenue decided that they wanted to do something special to remember him. So, they decided to take care of his daughter, Lois, and give her the same opportunities that her father would have wanted her to have.
“Their decision changed my life. I was only two years old, but my future was being decided by a group of men I didn’t even know. I came to refer to them by the name my mother used- she called them `The Club.’ Every Christmas, Easter, and birthday I would get dressed up in my best outfit because members of The Club were paying us a visit,” she said.
The Club formed an organization, called The Louis La Pointe Association, and began to raise money to take care of Keily. The association held an annual dinner dance and held other fundraisers.
“Like caring uncles, they indulged me with special gifts every year,” she said.
Thanks to the efforts of the La Pointe Association, Keily was able to attend college, received her degree in English, and became a teacher. In 1987 she was recognized as the New Jersey Teacher of the Year.
In addition to forming The Club, its members petitioned the Jersey City Council to construct a playground in the neighborhood and the Louis La Pointe Park was eventually dedicated, with a white stone monument and a plaque bearing his name.
Keily’s son, Lt. Col. Jason Gerin, just retired from Marines where he flew helicopters in Iraq.
“How proud my father would have been to know that his grandson was also serving his country,” she said.