anyone old enough to remember that day will be able to
tell you precisely where he or she was and what happened
on that incredible day.
I know I will never
forget where I was. At nine years of age, I was standing
with my Grandparents and a great Aunt on Canal Street in
New Orleans. We were in the middle of a solid mass of
people and all eyes were riveted on a “rolling” news
report that ran around the front of a building on Canal.
Word had been spreading in the city throughout the day
that surrender would come in the afternoon. I can
vividly yet see the black letters on white background
coming around on the reel “Japan has su….” The crowd on
Canal did not wait for the final part of the flash to go
by them before erupting into noise that would have made
Mardi Gras sound like Sunday School. I was tall for my
age but still swamped by the bodies wedged around me.
There was singing, dancing and there had already been
plenty of drinking going on that day.
New Orleans was not
called the “Big Easy” for nothing. Suddenly, we saw a
sailor driving a jeep right through the window of a
department store. The sailor got out of the jeep inside
the show window and started stepping outside the store.
Police simply took him by the arm and helped him back
onto the street. The fellow was visibly what my
Grandmother referred to as “four sheets to the wind.”
But the New Orleans police were not about to arrest a
member of our armed forces just because he drove what
turned out to be a stolen Army vehicle through a
department store window! Not on that day in 1945.
There was only one
unpleasant aspect to this entire adventure and it was my
fault but I meant no harm when I caused the problem. My
great Aunt Emma had a son named Bill who was overseas
serving in the U. S. Army. I don’t know if he was in
combat or not or even in the Pacific Theater but he was
“over there” and his Mother was sick with worry about
him. When the news flashed round as I described above,
Emma said “Thank God, thank God, Billy will be coming
home.” Big Mouth Lang just had to say “Yes, he will if
he’s still alive.” Out of the mouths of children,
indeed. Emma clapped her hand over my mouth, not
slapping me but trying to push my thoughtless words back
into me. I apologized and was forgiven but I feel badly
about making the comment to this day.
We were staying at a
very old hotel now long gone from New Orleans. It was
called the St. James and I don’t know for sure on what
street it was located. I can be sure it was not the
Roosevelt Hotel with its famous Sazerac Bar for we could
not have afforded such chic quarters on this trip.
When word began to
circulate that Japan would surrender within hours,
suddenly all the metal Mardi Gras noisemakers that had
been put away by stores at the start of WWII reappeared
for sale. I remember being fascinated with the metal of
the one I bought because everything had started turning
into plastic during the war. I sat in the lobby of the
St. James watching the action out on the street and
whirling my noisemaker around in my hand. It sounded
something like a gear stripping in an automobile. I was
delighted but the woman behind the front desk of the
hotel was not delighted for the same length of time and
finally screamed at me to stop. I can’t blame the old
dear now but I did then. I had a mouth on me even at
nine years of age and told her she “should be more
patriotic about the end of the war.” If there was a
reply to my smart remark, I don’t recall it.
I wish I had been older
as I would have liked very much to have gone bar hopping
in the French Quarter that night. I would hazard a guess
it was quite an evening to be “on the town.”
My memory also includes
how and why we were in New Orleans for that momentous
moment on Canal.
My Grandparents, of
whom I have written before, were true characters. He was
not really my Grandfather, being the third husband of my
maternal Grandmother but he was delightful and the only
Grandfather I knew.
Now, gasoline was
rationed when we left Galveston. We left on a Sunday for
a “Sunday drive” using my parents’ automobile. It was a
1940 Oldsmobile Club Sedan, lime green, with wide white
sidewall tires. The shift was standard, of course, but
was mounted on the steering wheel rather than being on
the floor and that was considered somewhat “jazzy” at
We were only going to
drive over the big bridge in Orange, Texas and then come
back to Galveston. I would have thought my parents would
have wised up to my Grandparents by this time and never
permitted them to exchange their older De Soto sedan for
We drove by for my
great Aunt Emma, one of my Grandmother’s sisters and
away we went. We did get to Orange and we did drive over
the bridge but we kept right on driving further into
Louisiana. My opinion is that my Grandmother intended
all along that we would go to New Orleans, precisely
because the war was ending and she liked to be “where
the action was.” It certainly wasn’t going to be on any
exciting scale in Galveston.
We had no change of
clothes, no toilet articles and in all likelihood, very
little cash. My Grandfather would have had his gasoline
ration coupons and that would have been about it. There
were no credit cards in 1945 and frequently out of town
checks would not be cashed by local merchants. So, I
don’t know how we actually made this trip but I am
thrilled to this day that we did. I do remember that
when we got to New Orleans and checked into the St.
James, my Grandparents called my Mother and Father who
were worried sick about us by that time. I am sure the
call was “collect.” My Father was very practical and
immediately explained to my Grandfather that the war had
better end fast as we would not have enough gas coupons
to return to Galveston until rationing ended. I think
gasoline rationing was “first in line” to be lifted
after the surrender. My guess is that my Mother and
Father ended up wiring money to my Grandparents.
I can remember other
wonderful things about being in New Orleans at that
incredible time. We rode the street car along St.
Charles to Audobon Park and went to Mass at St. Louis
Cathedral in thanks for the end of the war. We also took
the ferry ride over to Algiers and I think I’ve
mentioned doing this once before. At nine years of age,
I thought we were off to Africa when I heard Algiers.
Still, it was plenty exciting to take that ride.
It’s not possible for
me to say just how long were in that grand city for
everyone in my family who would know is dead and that
puts a sad tinge to the memories. But only a tinge for
the memories are happy ones. Where and what we ate is a
mystery to me but I know we did not go hungry. I can
remember my Grandmother washing my underwear and socks
in the basin of the bathroom and hanging them up to dry
overnight. God alone knows how the adults kept clean but
I’m sure they did as my Grandparents were immaculate and
well groomed at all times. What a wonderful thing to
have been a child with such bohemian Grandparents who
would set off on such a lark and pull it off.
What a wonderful thing
for there to have been a city such as New Orleans to go
to for the end of World War II. I argued with someone
yesterday who said there would be no Mardi Gras in New
Orleans next year. I contended there surely would be if
there was only one float with one marching band and
everyone in the city trailing along behind on foot. I
know in my gut I’m right. The Gulf of Mexico can be
vicious as well as beautiful and she dealt New Orleans a
terrible time. But a lethal blow? I do not believe it to
I have cousins in New
Orleans. They very wisely fled from Katrina and are safe
and sound elsewhere in Louisiana with their children.
Their house is on Amelia Street, just off St. Charles.
My cousin, Carla, told me that they knew from family
members who did not leave that their house came through
the hurricane safely. The levee break may have wrecked
the house, however. And, said Carla “If the water didn’t
get our house the looters might have but things will be
what they will be.” My cousins will be returning to New
Orleans when they can and, hopefully, their house will
be there, high and dry.
At Texas A & M on
Pelican Island here in Galveston I have one student so
far who has been taken in from New Orleans. She told me
that her family are all safe and they think their house
may be there since it is in the French Quarter on high
ground. I will do everything I can for her to be sure
she is at ease in the class and perhaps can even enjoy
Last Thursday I went to
Moody Methodist Church on 53rd Street here in Galveston
to deliver a modest check for the relief effort. I knew
the church and its ancillary buildings was functioning
as a shelter for evacuees from New Orleans. The place
was full when I arrived and the Red Cross was handling
things very efficiently. I did overhear one very sad
remark. A very pleasant looking older man was
registering himself and his family with the front desk.
I heard the Red Cross lady say, very politely, “You do
know you can’t sleep here---we are out of beds
already---but we can feed you.” The man said “I know and
we are grateful to be here at all.” There, but for the
grace of God, go all of us in Galveston. I hope that
family was taken to another place where there were beds
I think we all bow our
heads in awe of the horror nature can wreak upon us.
Equally, I think we raise our heads in anticipation that
a marvelous city in this country will come back to her
rightful place among us, her people having returned to
accomplish this sad and difficult task. I believe it
No reader needs me to
give orders but I will hope everyone’s generosity will
continue as needed. Every dollar each one of us can
spare will be gratefully received and used.
I doubt there will be
many photographs accompanying this piece but perhaps we
have seen enough devastation for now. I, for one, will
remember a favorite city sixty years ago when a terrible
war ended and I stood on Canal Street with my
Until next time, “Bon
Chance,” as we would expect to hear at the Café du Monde
in the French Quarter.