By Lloyd Courtney
When Northwestern State football lines up against Nicholls on Saturday night in Turpin Stadium, the Demons will be celebrating its annual “Military Appreciation Day.”
For Deacon Lewis, David Centanni, Gary Pittman, and Shelley Dickie, members of the hallowed, undefeated 1966 Northwestern State football team, today comes as a way to express their gratitude for the military, something that goes beyond anything they accomplished on the football field.
While these men were leading NSU to a No. 1 ranking in the NAIA polls, the U.S. was engulfed in a war with Vietnam, which is why those former Demons have such a profound respect for those that serve our country.
“If you are looking for patriotic statements, you’ll get them from us, because we respect the military more than any group in the country,” said Pittman, who lettered at halfback from 1963-66.
“We should do more for our veterans, and we should do more for the people currently serving. I have relatives that have served time in Iraq and Afghanistan that are doing the hard work for us, while we celebrate our fifty-year reunion. All the people that have sacrificed in front of us, we ought to give them a debt of gratitude.”
Lewis, Northwestern State’s starting quarterback from 1965-1968, served in the Army Reserves for a time, but he is proudest of the fundraising he does with a group called “Impact a Hero” based in Houston, Texas.
“With Impact a Hero, we have a whole weekend where we bring in around 50 soldiers and their families in,” Lewis said. “We host a gala of about 1,200 people in NRG Stadium that raises a lot of money for the military.”
Lewis’ connection to the Vietnam War is a personal one. His father-in-law was a Sergeant Major during that time.
“For 28 years he was stationed at Fort Polk,” Lewis said. “He trained soldiers at Tiger Ridge to go to Vietnam.”
While the members of the 1966 Demons played at then-Northwestern State College and attended classmates with those directly affected by Vietnam, the university’s bond with the military only has strengthened in the half-century since then.
Northwestern State has a campus at Fort Polk, which puts NSU at the heart of central Louisiana’s military efforts, according to NSU President Dr. Jim Henderson.
In conjunction with Military Appreciation Day, active or retired personnel will be able to get free tickets to Saturday’s game against Nicholls at Turpin Stadium by showing their Military ID cards at the gate.
Pictured from left, Deacon Lewis, Gary Pittman, David Centanni and Shelley Dickie were part of Northwestern State’s 1966 undefated football team whose college memories were partially forged by the Vietnam War, giving them a deep sense of respect for the U.S. military. Photo by Lloyd Courtney/NSU Sports Information.