By Donna Britt
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Black History Month is the perfect time to remember the achievements, of Baton Rouge African-Americans.
WAFB's Donna Britt sought to interview retired Army Brigadier General Sharion Cadoria for three years, and was finally able to gain her trust. Cadoria had suffered five strokes, and was not sure how well she would handle an interview, but her memory is outstanding!
General Cadoria grew up in a poor family in Marksville. She was a born leader, and hard-working. Her mother raised Sharion and her two older siblings alone, because Sharion's father was kicked in the head by a horse and never recovered. When time came to work in the fields, the whole family worked. As children, they would first be there sitting on a cotton sack with their mother. But by the time they could walk, they were picking cotton. Cadoria said they would be picked up by a truck at their homes at 4 every morning, and would head home at 5 p.m. as dusk was settling in; 12-hour workdays at a young age. Her mother supposedly had a Bible in one hand, and some kind of paddle in the other.
"If you're not very good, and you don't follow the 10 Commandments, and you don't do what Mom says to do, then God gave the rear end for parents to teach you. And then, you will remember!" she chuckled.
The General admitted she was a bossy kid and everyone's defender! She had her mother's strict discipline, and her fierce sense of justice. Cadoria was at Southern University in Baton Rouge when she began her military career. She said the military way was familiar because of her strict upbringing. She first enlisted in the Women's Army Corps, or WAC. She quickly became regular Army and served in peacetime posts both domestic and international. Then there was the Vietnam War. Sharion spent 33 months in the combat zone. She said she was military police, but weighed on 89 pounds.
Her petite stature meant she was constantly proving herself. In Vietnam, Cadoria was a woman, sometimes alone in an all-male staff. As eventual commander of the MP's, she would become the Army's first female to command an all-male battalion.
Sharion eventually asked for protocol duty, escorting visiting military brass and celebrities. She had taken all the necessary courses to learn the protocol and process. She had experience with the field marshal's office. But the general told her the Army only used male protocol officers because women couldn't carry the baggage, and were not sturdy enough for travel.
As they stood in a field where Cadoria actually picked cotton as a child, the General told Donna Britt, that the memory of picking cotton as young as 3 years old came back to her in those days in Vietnam. When she was sent to a colonel after her repeated requests for protocol assignment, he insisted, out of frustration, "But you won't be able to do this! And you definitely can't carry luggage!"
Cadoria said, "I said, I beg your pardon, sir! Nobody told me that when I was 10 years old and I was carrying sacks of cotton. I was picking 250 pounds a day, and each person had to carry their own cotton to go weigh it. I can carry that and I can probably can carry you too, sir!" Donna chuckled.
The General had a tough, persistence that eventually paid off. Cadoria was soon greeting celebrities like actor Bob Denver of the 1960's TV hit show "Gilligan's Island." Comedian Bob Hope, who made repeated trips to Vietnam with a USA variety show, saw Cadoria so often in Vietnam, that when he later saw her at the White House in Washington, DC, he remembered her!
After returning from the Vietnam War, the Pentagon assigned Cadoria to use her protocol skills as the social aid to President Ford. She knew the President and Ms. Betty Ford very well, and when she met with Ford to tell him she was being reassigned back to the Pentagon to manage the Army's world-wide military police, Ms. Ford said she was sad to see her go.
In those years that followed, Cadoria became the Army's first black female brigadier general. She was home, briefly, in Marksville to care for her ailing mother when she got the call that confirmed she was on the approved list of generals for the military.
Her mother, who had always worried and, as a good Catholic, prayed and prayed for Sharion was absolutely elated to hear about her daughter's crowning achievement.
"She got the most beatific smile, and said 'we're gonna be a general!' Well that, if you asked for the proudest moment in my life… that was the proudest moment!"
General Cadoria would spend the rest of her military career in different roles at the Pentagon, including two years on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And when it came time to retire, Cadoria did serve on CLECO, the Central Louisiana utility company's board, but did not go the way of many retired generals, and instead, launched a public speaking career and traveled the world speaking to military organizations and others about her extraordinary experiences.
She was called to the Holy Ghost Elementary School in Marksville, however, when the principal of the school was called back to the convent, the local priest asked Sharion to be interim school principal.
She hesitated only slightly and then promised to serve at least a year. She lined up community support for badly needed repairs at the school and paved the way for later fund-raising that would build a new school building.
Cadoria's life has been in service country and community.
When asked what she thought of the Army's decision to allow women in combat, she naturally said what a trailblazer for women would say: "They'll have the standards. If you can't meet the requirements, you should not be in the job. And that's for every single solitary job. If the person can do the job, then let them do the job."