St. Mary Parish veteran honored
By MARSHA SHULER
BATON ROUGE (AP) — During World War II, U.S. Army veteran John Mack, of St. Mary Parish, somehow lost his dog tag on the beaches of Normandy.
Nearly 70 years later, the military identification is being returned to the family of the now-deceased Mack, thanks to a chance find by Laurent Meslier of France and a little investigative work by Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s office.
Dardenne received the dog tag from Meslier during an October cultural and economic development trip to France.
The dog tag will be donated to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans at special ceremonies on Saturday. The tag will be added to an exhibit honoring the “buffalo soldiers” from the late 1800s and black soldiers from World War II.
An amateur treasure hunter with a metal detector, Meslier found the dog tag as he walked along a beach in northern France, where in June 1944 American and Allied troops invaded Nazi-held Europe.
Meslier contacted the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, better known as CODOFIL, for help in locating Mack. “It was fate that all this happened at the same time we were planning this trip,” Dardenne said in a telephone interview from Paris. CODOFIL answers to Dardenne.
Dardenne’s chief of staff, Cathy Berry, found Mack’s family in September as well as information about the veteran, who is believed to have been a part of the Red Ball Express. The express was a truck convoy that delivered gas, oil lubricants, ammunition, food and other essentials to the front lines. Its members were mostly black soldiers.
The convoy was established in August 1944 as U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton advanced across France into Germany. The convoy system stretched east from Saint-Lô, in Normandy, about 190 miles to Paris, and then to the front along France’s northeastern border. Mack served in Normandy; Rhineland, Germany and central Europe, Berry said.
Berry said her search found that before being drafted into the Army in 1942, Mack worked as a farmhand at Mariah Plantation in St. Mary Parish, which was owned by Prescott Foster, the uncle of former Gov. Mike Foster.
Upon his return to Louisiana in 1946 after the war, Mack worked in agriculture as a truck driver.
The Veterans’ Administration does not have good records on many soldiers from the era because of the July 1973 fire at a government warehouse near St. Louis, she said.
“We had difficulty finding out what happened to Mack after the war,” Berry said. “But we know he was there (France) through the big fight.”
Mack had nine children. He died in 1975, according to his grave marker, Berry said.
Berry said some of Mack’s relatives still live in St. Mary Parish.
Meslier presented Mack’s dog tag to Dardenne during ceremonies at the museum at Le Mémorial de Caen, in Normandy, which is a sister museum to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. “It was a very emotional and moving ceremony,” said Dardenne.
“It’s truly an honor to receive this relic of world history in Normandy, where many Louisianians played a pivotal role in World War II,” said Dardenne, who laid a wreath at the grave of Louisiana soldiers at the American cemetery.
Dardenne’s office is planning another ceremony to present the dog tag to a Mack family member, who will then present it to the New Orleans museum on Saturday, before the Bicentennial Military Parade through New Orleans’ French Quarter and Warehouse District.
A news conference at the Cabildo featuring the dog tag ceremony will precede the parade.
A military veteran will carry the dog tag will be carried to the National WWII Museum in the parade.