Abraham presents family of WWII hero with Distinguished Service Cross
Press Release – OPELOUSAS, La. – Congressman Ralph Abraham, M.D., R-Alto, on Tuesday joined hundreds from the community to present the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart to the family of World War II hero Chaplain Lt. Joseph Verbis Lafleur in a ceremony held at the St. Landry Catholic Church.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest honor that the United States Army can bestow upon a service member (only the Medal of Honor ranks higher). Father Lafleur earned the honor for his countless acts of heroism after the sinking of his unit’s steamship and during his more than two-year imprisonment in Japanese POW camps.
Dr. Abraham and Sen. Bill Cassidy authored legislation last Congress to award Lafleur with the medal. The language of the bills was included in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which became law in December 2016.
“Father Lafleur is nothing short of a true war hero, and American lives were saved because of his selfless acts of bravery and sacrifice. It is an incredible honor for me to be involved in bringing long overdue recognition to this great Louisianan for his service to our nation,” Dr. Abraham said.
Sen. Cassidy added, “Lieutenant Reverend Joseph Verbis LaFleur brought faith and comfort to those who needed it most. He sacrificed his life to save others,” said Dr. Cassidy. “He is a hero. He inspires us all. He richly deserves the Distinguished Service Cross.” “We accept the Distinguished Service Cross for the other people who served and lost their lives but never received credit for that,” said Richard Lafleur, Joseph’s nephew. “We’re very fortunate Father Lafleur was picked to receive these honors, but they all deserve it.”
In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Lafleur’s steamship. Lafleur remained onboard to minister and aid evacuating soldiers. He was the last person to leave the ship and was eventually captured by enemy soldiers.
While imprisoned in the Japanese POW camp, Lafleur continued to minister to other prisoners, and he endured multiple beatings from guards as a result. Though he suffered from malaria and failing health due to field labor, he denied himself medicine so that others could take it and volunteered for the grueling Lasang work detail to spare others that pain.
Lafleur died in 1944 while aboard a Hell ship bound for Japan after a torpedo struck the ship.
Lafleur’s was honored at the dedication of the Chaplain Hill monument at Arlington National Cemetery in May 1989. He also has a shrine and monument dedicated to him at the St. Landry Catholic Church in Opelousas.
Lafleur’s legacy lives on in the form of a scholarship fund for students to attend Sacred Heart High School in Ville Platte, Opelousas Catholic School in Opelousas, and Vermilion Catholic School in Abbeville.