In 1942 my Dad, Roosevelt Martin, was driving his Texaco truck, loaded with 55-gallon drums of gasoline and oil to the Bayou Rigaud dock in Grand Isle. I was riding shotgun … literally!
Because of his valuable cargo, he had been advised to bring a weapon. He found an old, rusted double barrel shotgun, not loaded, which could not have been fired even if it had been, and laid it on the seat between us. I felt like Gabby Hayes next to Roy Rogers in a movie, Dad Gum it!
As we arrived in Cheniere, a barricade and two armed guards stopped us and demanded credentials.
We encounted another one at the foot of the Caminada Bridge.
After clearing those, I saw more soldiers, a military vehicle, a navy blimp flying high overhead and Jeeps patrolling the beach. It was quiet an experience for a 12-year old kid. This was not cowboys and Indians nor cops and robbers … this was the real thing!
Dad had been there before, but had been warned that anything he saw was top secret, and he did not want to upset my mother.
We finally reached the dock and reported to the dock master, an old friend. The truck was unloaded under armed guards. His friend handed Dad a pair of binoculars and said, “Look west, Roosevelt.”
Dad looked and then handed them to me. I saw black smoke, which we had been smelling, and we heard explosions coming from the ship’s direction.
“That’s ammunition or gas drums going off,” he explained. “It’s been burning for 3 days and it’s the fourth one this month. A sailor told me that one of their planes had spotted a U-boat and shot at it and might have sunk it.”
The Atlantic and the Pacific oceans might have prevented an invasion. But Roosevelt Martin and son now knew that America HAD been invaded by submarines, from our own Gulf of Mexico.
In recent years we learned from research by Mr. Charles Christ of Houma that from 1942 to 1943 a fleet of over 20 German U-Boats operated in the Gulf and sunk over 56 oil tankers from Texas and Louisiana refineries.
A Nazi U-Boat, the U-166 had been sunk on July 30, 1942, by the Coast Guard PC-566. It remains there today, buried with its crew of 42, a rare victory early in the war.
“Don’t tell your Mother or anybody else any of this or we could go to jail,” Dad said. I obeyed, and I never shared the whole story with anyone … until today.
Another story about the war happened to my good friend, the late Dick Guidry. By this time, I was living in New Orleans but Dick related it to me many years later and in a recent interview told the press who printed it.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Cut Off had a German priest who spoke favorably about the Nazi regime from the pulpit, and was believed to have a short wave radio to spy for them. It had gotten to a point where a crowd gathered at the church demanding his resignation.
He appeared to be in danger, and Dick, then 14 and an altar boy, was driving his parents’ coupe (before driving age) and drove to the back of the rectory, smuggled the priest into the trunk and drove off, thereby possibly saving his life.
I remember that coupe. It had a very small, cramped back seat where a few years after the war Dick and I sat when attending LSU football games with his parents, John L. and Lillian Guidry. His brother Bobby was a student there. Dick’s brother Lloyd and sister Rosie Harris completed the family.
Mr. Guidry was a community leader and today Nicholls State University’s John L. Guidry Stadium is named in his honor.
After a new priest took over tempers cooled and things returned to normal.
This event had been unusual for the God fearing and gentle Cajuns but this was war, our soldiers were dying, and America was united as never before in a just cause.
Next week, World War II, part 3.
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Posted on Tue, March 10, 2015
by The Lafourche Gazette