On the front of the VA New Orleans Medical Center is a simple memorial honoring service and sacrifice. It is often said that freedom is not free, but the words on this monument make the cost palpable.
“The Price of Freedom Can Be Seen Within These Walls.” — Captain William “Bill” Detweiler
Newcomers to the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System (SLVHCS) might not have known who first labeled its flagship medical center with this motto, but now, shortly after his passing, everyone will know where the phrase comes from thanks to a small addition: an attribution mounted to the concrete.
SLVHCS friend William M. “Bill” Detweiler was born in 1940 in New Orleans. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and later dedicated his life to serving his fellow Veterans.
In 1973, Detweiler was appointed to the VA’s national rehabilitation and education advisory committee by President Nixon. In 1975 he was named its chairman. He also served on military advisory boards for the Louisiana governor, the state senate and New Orleans’ mayor. He served as national commander of the American Legion in 1994. Later, he served as a member of the advisory committee to the national commander of the American Legion, and also as president of the board of directors of the American Legion national endowment fund.
In 1996, Detweiler was elected to the board of trustees of the New Orleans D-Day Museum, which later became the National World War II Museum. He served as secretary of the board until 2002, then served as consultant for military and Veterans affairs to the museum’s president.
Detweiler was also one of the key community leaders who rallied for SLVHCS to receive a new Veterans medical center in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. He later served on the hospital’s executive advisory committee. Today, the medical center Detweiler advocated for has his words right out front, now complete with attribution.
Detweiler’s wife Maureen Reed Detweiler said he was always humble and never sought the spotlight or recognition for his deeds.
“Working with the military and Veterans was a passion of Bill’s and brought him a lot of joy,” she said. “He would have been honored to see his name under the motto.”
SLVHCS Director Fernando Rivera said, “(Detweiler) was an incredible example of a strong leader. Sometimes a quiet leader, sometimes not so quiet. His service to our nation’s heroes never stopped. He was one of (SLVHCS’s) strongest supporters.”
In Detweiler’s eulogy, his close friend Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller said, “Until his final days, Bill was there to help us meet every challenge, to make sure that we always kept Veterans first and foremost in our minds and that we paid them the proper tribute they deserved.”
Detweiler dedicated his life to serving Veterans, and he was a tireless advocate who made the VA better. There was no better friend to Veterans in New Orleans, and now all who enter those halls will know it.
Jamie L. Mobley is a public affairs specialist at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System.