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Whatever Happened To ... the 'John Wayne dude' who stood tall after Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore was the military's point man on the Gulf Coast.
In 2005, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore was the military's point man on the Gulf Coast. (Robert A. Reeder)

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By Kathleen Hom
Sunday, August 29, 2010

Five years ago, Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré witnessed the human tragedy and physical devastation of Hurricane Katrina up close as commander of the military's relief operation on the Gulf Coast. Now retired from the U.S. Army, Honoré, 62, is again based along the Gulf of Mexico to observe another historic crisis -- the BP oil spill. This time, though, he's a television broadcaster.

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In the days after Hurricane Katrina, Honoré earned a reputation as the tough-talking, no-nonsense, cigar-smoking three-star general who somehow made things happen. The mayor of New Orleans at the time referred to him as "one John Wayne dude," a moniker that stuck. Honoré was profiled in The Washington Post's Style section Sept. 12, 2005, two weeks after the hurricane.

Honoré has since retired from the Army, leaving in 2008 after 37 years. Months later, CNN hired him to be an on-air contributor offering his take on the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and the gulf oil spill. Honoré also wrote a book, "Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family From Disasters," published last year. In it, he draws from his experiences in post-hurricane New Orleans to offer advice on preparing for future crises.

"When I arrived in New Orleans in that helicopter after the storm," he recalls, "the thought to me was how to prevent that from happening again in America. There were so many people suffering, trying to stay alive."

Having grown up in a family of cotton farmers, Honoré says he was particularly struck by seeing so many poor, disabled and elderly people left helpless. When he speaks at Red Cross fundraisers, the McDonald's Corp. and the Boys and Girls Club, he stresses investing in "human capital."

"I'm not saying give them a handout," he explains. "They need a hand up. We shouldn't have that level of poverty that we have in America."

For his work on CNN, Honoré says, he hears from viewers affected by the oil spill, and visits their parishes and regional government officials at least once or twice a week. He and his wife, Beverly, have been based in Baton Rouge since last summer, near his mother-in-law and his home town of Lakeland, La.

This fall, Honoré plans to visit Haiti on a Red Cross observational tour. Upset that recovery isn't progressing as fast as he believes it should, Honoré wants to see the country firsthand and, as he does with other issues, help motivate politicians to respond.

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Read the original story: The Category 5 General (2005)

Complete Coverage: Katrina 5 Years Later


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