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Effort to house homeless vets gains momentum this Veterans Day

Locals honored  veterans with multiple ceremonies this Veterans Day, including one that serves as a symbol for efforts to get homeless vets off the street.

Former homeless veteran Leroy Hamilton has been on the streets for five years, but on Tuesday he said things are looking up.

"I'm enjoying myself, sir," he said. "I think it's nice." 

As hundreds gathered at the National World War II Museum to remember veterans, the Landrieu administration touted its success in getting the city's homeless off the streets.

"These folks have gone out and put shoe leather on the ground," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Landrieu said in the past four months, 63 percent of the city's homeless vet population has been housed, with Hamilton being the latest.

"Of 200 veterans we identified, we've found homes for 126 of them," Landrieu said.

And while the effort is proof  that America remembers some veterans want more.

"I was there, first wave," said Clarence Mac Evans.

Evans was saved on Omaha Beach after he stripped off his clothes and weapons to keep from drowning.

"My role was just trying to stay alive on D-Day itself," he said.

Now he wants to make sure students get the message.

"I talk to kids who have no idea what Omaha Beach was," Evans said.

They now give oral histories at the museum out of concern that schools aren't doing enough to convey the magnitude of the victorious effort and the D-Day offensive.

"When they don't teach history, if you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going," said D-Day veteran Jim Weller.

These veterans left a lot of armored vehicles on the battlefields of Europe during World War II, where they say post-traumatic stress was just as big a problem as it is today.

"Nobody knew what it was," said Evans. "It was bad, I stayed drunk for four years."

Evans still struggles, though he hasn't had a drink in 55 years.

"If you see what I see and did what I did, you don't change overnight," he said.

Tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are in the same boat, but new housing, and new facilities in Mid-City, Lake Charles and Lafayette are expected to help veterans ease back into a society that they fought and died to protect.

While veterans of all military branches were remembered at the museum, other local Veterans Day observances took place in the streets. The New Orleans Marine Corps Band led a short parade downtown. It also featured ROTC units from L.W. Higgins and McMain high schools.

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