Joseph's sister Anita, who was later to become my sister-in-law, was married to Oran Broussard on December 7, 1941. I had come with friends from Lafayette to attend the wedding in Abbeville, and we had arrived early, so I was sitting in church, talking to some of Anita's family. One of them leaned over and asked me if I'd heard that we were at war. That is the first I'd heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Mr. William "Win" Hawkins, a Lafayette oilman, owned the Grand Chenier Hunting Club at that time and entertained many prominent people there. It happened that his guests that weekend were a party of military brass. The commanders of the United States Second and Third Armies, Generals Ben Lear and Walter Krueger had taken a few days off from maneuvers at Fort Polk to get in some duck hunting. Also in their company was a young Lieutenant Colonel by the name of Dwight D. Eisenhower. (By 1945, "Ike" had risen to Five-Star General, and later became President of the United States.) When news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came, there was a mad scramble to get things together to rush back to Fort Polk.
Because Mr. Hawkins was familiar with the coastline, Admiral Farley enlisted him into the Coast Guard in 1942 and put him in charge of providing security along the Gulf Coast. Mr. Hawkins was from Greenville, Alabama, but he had many friends and contacts in Louisiana, so he was able to enlist the local people needed for the assignment. One such enlistee was Elrod "Pete" Petry, who had been born on Chenier Au Tigre in 1924. "Pete" had gone to New Orleans with some of his friend to enlist in the Army but he was refused because of an injury he had suffered at birth, which caused him to have a crooked neck. "Pete" ran into Mr. Hawkins in Abbeville, when he got back home, and when he told him his story, Mr. Hawkins gave him a letter to give to the recruiting station sergeant. "Pete" soon found himself back home on Chenier Au Tigre, a member of the Cajun Coast Guard, riding the marsh on horseback, looking for the enemy.
The requirement for being in this outfit was a knowledge of the terrain to be patrolled. The guard took any man who volunteered for duty, regardless of age. Felix Meaux was 60 years old when he was accepted for duty. The Chenier Au Tigre Unit consisted of about twenty men and they patrolled the coastline looking for German U-boats that would occasionally surface in the Gulf. These men were paid $21.00 a month and provided most of their own gear. They worked 12-hour shifts, most of which were spent in the patrol towers built along the coast for observation. Other patrolling was done on horseback. The 8-hour horseback patrols were rotational so that at all times, someone was combing the shoreline. Between shifts, they entertained themselves by fishing, hunting and racing on their horses. The Army had offered to give them cavalry horses to use, but they preferred using their own horses, which were used to the mosquitoes and marsh. The Cajuns knew that the Army's horses wouldn't last long under those conditions.
We had heard rumors that some German subs had been sighted off the Vermilion Parish coast, but I am not sure the men of the Cajun Coast Guard ever saw any. They saw many fighter planes and bombers from what is now known as Chennault Air Force Base in Lake Charles, though. When one of those B-26s, making target runs on the mud flats of the coastline, crashed about a quarter-mile out in the Gulf of Mexico, a rescue team of the Cajun Coast Guard began their search. Two of the five crew members drowned after the crash, but the pilot and two airmen survived and after kicking off their boots, were able to swim to shore, only to get lost in the canals and inlets of Vermilion Parish. The sharp sawgrass slashed their feet and arms, and the blood thirsty marsh mosquitos attacked them. Mud like quicksand tried to suck them under. They wandered around aimlessly for two days in the marshland that the Cajun Coast Guard called home.
By the third day, they were tired, hungry, lost and confused. They had given up and sat down in the mud to wait for death to take them. That is when they heard in the distance a voice shouting "Il son la!" The search team had caught up with them in a marsh buggy.
And that is when the Cajun Coast Guard was nicknamed "The Swamp Angels."
POSTSCRIPT TO SWAMP ANGELS STORY
WW2, the group of men who made up the Cajun Coast Guard were nicknamed
"The Swamp Angels" because of their rescue of the survivors from a military
plane that had gone down in the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Louisiana
Coast. With the cooperation of several friends, especially 107- year-old
Grandma "Black" Vincent we were finally able to get a complete list of
the members of the Cajun Coast Guard. They and their locations are
listed in the columns below:
Copyright © 2002 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA
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