Its a Mystery to Me

October 3, 2006

There’s a story I remember hearing from my mom at different times in my life. It was about my dad and an accident that occurred while he was in New Orleans in 1944. My dad never talked about it, but then again he never discussed his time in the service at all. At one point I remember seeing a newspaper clipping that gave a brief account of the accident. It was one of those “On this day in 1944” (fill in the year) columns. Although I thought the article would eventually surface in my mom’s papers and photographs, it has yet to appear. Both my parents are gone now. What remains are bits and pieces of conversations and some items my mom tucked away in one of the boxes I found in the fruit cellar. This is how the story goes:

My dad and several buddies were on leave in the French Quarter. They had made an evening of it and wound up in the shop of a fortune teller. She told them that she saw a watery death for all of them, except one, who would survive. The next night a horrific storm came upon Lake Pontchartrain. A military boat capsized in the storm and many men drowned including all that were with my dad the night before. He lived to see another day.

Here is what I have been able to piece together so far. The picture below is of my mom and dad at Jackson Square, New Orleans, in February of 1944. At this time she was living in Illinois and must have gone to visit my dad for Valentines Day. She stayed in the Jung Hotel from February 14th to the 18th. My dad must have been stationed there for a time before going over seas.



My dad is in this photograph, in the back row standing to the right and in front of the tree.

There are notes my dad made on the back of the picture listing all of the men by name. There are checks by some. The sentence at the bottom reads: “The names with the check at them were not in the boat with us, they were in the rescue boat.”


There is a change of address card dated August 1944 from Camp Reynolds, PA to the Postmaster, New York. This must have been when he shipped out. He was in the 34th Infantry, “Red Bull Division”. On February 14th, 1945, he was in Montecatini, Italy on temporary pass.

A few years ago, pre-Google, I spent awhile tracking down information on Andrew Higgins and his Higgins Boat which is given credit as the boat that won the war. It was manufactured in New Orleans and tested on Lake Pontchartrain. At one point I traded e-mails with a gentleman working on an exhibit for the World War II Museum in New Orleans. He did not recall coming across any information regarding an accident in his findings. I wonder if it wasn’t one of those things that might have gotten swept under the rug since it wasn’t good publicity. In those days there was much greater control of the press.

So that’s my story. There appears to be much, much more information available today on the web than when I worked on this the last time. Who knows! Maybe someone out there will read this post and be able to fill in some more blanks…and that would be a good thing.

If there is a moral here, it would have to be this: my mom took many stories with her from back in the day. Some wonderful and some not so, but they are gone except for the bits and pieces I can put together. And I am. And I am writing them down for my kids.

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21 Responses to “Its a Mystery to Me”

  1. SongBird Says:

    I believe our histories are so important. This post is excellent. It gave me shivers as I read it. Thank you for sharing this story about your dad.

  2. graymama Says:

    What a wonderful post!

    I have many stories of my grandpa from World War II that I happened upon when going through my gramms’ things after she past. I even found a few letters grandpa sent to gramms from Europe.

    Grandpa survived Pearl Harbor and D-Day only to pass away at the age of 56 from an allergic reaction to the flu shot. He died 4 months before I was born.

    Hubby’s mama is really into genealogy. She helps me to connect my family history dots.

  3. willi Says:

    Great post! This is a wonderful story and as songbird states, it gives you the shivers.

    Perhaps it was swept under the rug. It obviously happened. The Higgins boat played a major role in WWII on both the European and Pacific fronts. Without it “storming” the beach would have been nearly impossible.

  4. Jay Says:

    WOW! That’s amazing. I hope you are able to find out more about it. Stephen Ambrose’s books about D-Day have a lot of info about the Higgins boats. Which is the first place I ever heard of them.

  5. gawilli Says:

    Songbird, it always gave me the shivers too. I sure would like to know the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would put it!

    Graymama, I found several letters from my mom and dad tied with a ribbon in the boxes also…but that’s another post. It’s good that someone is helping you connect the dots. History is a good thing.

    Willi and Jay, the Higgins Boat connection seems to make sense, but I don’t know for sure. My mom called it a transport when she told the story. I also read that they tested several other proto-types that were not so successful. That could have been what happened also. I will check out Steven Ambrose’ books. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Susan Says:

    What an amazing story. I’m glad you were able to piece so much of it together.

  7. Maya's Granny Says:

    It is really important to keep these stories and pass them on to our children and grandchildren. I find it an eternally fascinating thing.

  8. M J Says:

    What treasures!

    Great post. History is a good thing.

  9. her indoors Says:

    well done, its great that you can pass this on

  10. Tod Says:

    A great post. It is so important to not forget our social history. I hardly know anything about my grandparents. It’s a shame.

  11. Cazzie!!! Says:

    Any chance that Aussie soldiers were on that rescue boat? If there were then maybe my grandpa was on the boat too. There is a name there that is the same as his. I guess though, there could be two people in the World involved in the same war at the same time that had the same names.
    I love that whole post, it is a great true story. I especialy love seeing the pictures.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    I had never heard about the boat accident. I’ll let you know if I find out anything more.

  13. gawilli Says:

    Cazzie – that’s pretty amazing that your grandpa has the same name. Could it have been him? Probably not. If you would like a larger copy of the picture, it is actually 8×10.

    Laurie! That would be pretty exciting if you did learn anything. Thanks!

  14. daddy d Says:

    Great story. The past will go away without people to remember what happened. Think about how many people that have gone throught this life and no ones even has any idea that they were here on this earth. It does matter to the human network of that individual. And to the rest of the people in some way or other.

  15. gawilli Says:

    Daddy D – Great thoughts as always. Sometimes in the rush of the now, we forget how important it is to take note of the past, both for us and for those that come after us.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Really great post there!

    I love this sort of thing.

  17. John Says:

    Interesting story. I keep on coming across bits of family history, but it can be difficult getting to all the facts after so many years.

  18. Ginnie Says:

    Interesting history. I find that the more I delve into the past the more I can remember. It’s the little bits of photos and papers that make it so titillating. I hope you learn more.

  19. Cazzie!!! Says:

    2nd last name has William McNair, has a tick next to it. My pop died when I was about 11yrs old but he was known not to speak of the war much..war neurosis they termed it. Bless his poor heart. He did go abroad, after fighting up in Darwin here up top of Australia. He went to Papua New Guinea and some where else too, but he did not go into details as I said.
    Just a co-incidence I guess, perhaps for good reason I read your blog, it is to remember those we love, and Lest We Forget what they went through to try make this world a safer place to live.

  20. Freakazojd Says:

    What a story! What a history! I hope you can fill in the missing pieces somehow, and I’m so glad you’re documenting those things for your children – they’ll be thankful!

  21. saz Says:

    What a great mystery this is! Hopefully you can continue to put the puzzle together!


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