Vets share stories
Creole soldier was part of all-black unit

Judy Bastien

Denris J. Mouton celebrated his 18th birthday in England. He was part of the 256th Port Battalion of the U.S. Army - he had joined the military in 1942 at the beginning of World War II, at the age of 17.
Acadiana salutes those who have fought for our nation and served in our armed forces today. Several Veterans Day events are scheduled today and continue through the weekend.

Mouton, a French-speaking Creole from Lafayette, was a member of an all-black unit that served in Cottingham, England, and Chebourg, France. He and his fellow soldiers were responsible for unloading transport ships that brought supplies and armaments to the Allied Forces in Europe. They also had another assignment in Chebourg.

"We were told to guard some prisoners," he said. "We had about 6,200 prisoners, mostly paratroopers. They were very young - just a few older ones."

As a first sergeant, Mouton had an orderly to assist him - a 14-year-old German POW. The prisoners became a valuable resource as laborers, he said.

"To save manpower, instead of taking our men to unload the ships, we let two soldiers take 22 German prisoners and go out to a ship to work," he said.

At first, it was too dangerous for the ships to approach the docks because of mines, Mouton said, but that changed after minesweepers came in to clear the waters near the docks.

There were few problems with the POWs, Mouton said. But one incident during the holidays stayed with him for six decades. There was a rumor of a possible escape attempt. The U.S. soldiers were told to tighten security.

Instead of sleeping in their tents, the prisoners were made to spend Christmas night outdoors, where the American soldiers could watch them more easily. It was bitterly cold, and it began to snow. The Germans would huddle in groups of about 50, Mouton said, taking turns sleeping on top of each other for warmth.

"And they were singing," he said. "They were the best-voiced people. They sang Silent Night in German. I think every one of my soldiers was crying because it was sad to see."