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