History never dies

Veterans Virgil Joffrion, Herman Torres, Floyd Ourso, Raymond Deckereau, Andrew LeBlanc, Joe Matassa, Wilson Waguespack, Laura Morgan, Bob Prejean, all of World War II come together for a picture in the Donaldsonville Chief Office with Korean War Veteran Nick Porto.

Seventy-three years ago, exact this past Sunday, the United States found itself on the defense when Japanese Air and Naval Forces bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. About 2,300 troops were killed in the attack and it led to about 16 million more to take action to protect and fight for the red, white and blue. Of those 16 million about 1.8 million are alive today to tell the story, including Donaldsonville residents, Wilson Waguespack, Herman Torres and Floyd Ourso.

Of this trio, Torres saw the most action. He left Staten Island in February of 1943 headed for North Africa in the Second Army Division. The crew he was with invaded Sicily and went all the way to Berlin.

There were dark skies in the foreign lands, Torres remembers. He said he would see so many B-17 planes in the air like black birds and he couldn’t even see the clouds because so many were up there.

He said he knew the day had come and that they had been loaded up for good, and they went on to hit the Normandy and Omaha beaches. Torres fought in seven battles. He’s seen a lot, and said the one thing he ever had time to think about was to, “get home,” he said.

“I’m lucky, I thank God everyday I made it back,” Torres said, who served from 1943 to 1945. “You don’t have time to think when you’re trying to save your hind, that’s all you think about.”

Torres explained how he saw artillery cutting the rooftops of cars off, beheadings and troops paralyzed. He said he was never wounded, only received some scratches that he said was “nothing.”

“We had some rough battles, especially the battle of the Bulge,” he said. “Hitler told his troops the only supplies they could get was from the American troops and that was a rough battle.”

Torres said the most frightening thing to him was when the air force dropped flares.

“They could see you better than you could see them, you better look for a hole,” he said. “We used to use flags on our vehicles so the air force could identify us, because they’d come down right on top of you.”

The planes frightened Torres most, but he had a cousin who flew them as a B-17 pilot. Unfortunately, his cousin died when the bomb under his plane wouldn’t deploy, causing it to explode while still strapped to the plane.

Torres also remembers seeing German planes full of American Prisoners of War; he said he found out later that some were from Donaldsonville on that plane.

“We could’ve shot the plane down, but we knew there were American P.O.W.’s on there, so we didn’t shoot them,” Torres said. “We didn’t even shoot, we let them go.”

He said he knows that some of the people he knew from Donaldsonville and St. James made it back as P.O.W.

While Torres fought in Europe, Waguespack was stationed in the island. On his 19th birthday, he arrived to the island of Okinawa. The aerial attacks also frightened Waguespack most. He said he witnessed the kamikaze attacks that he explained to be like what the terrorists did to the World Trade Centers in New York.

“They’d treat pilots like kings,” he said, “promise heaven and anything they wanted and they were ready to take off.”

“When those air raids come and they put you in that ship and they lock them doors, it’s a weird feeling,” Waguespack said. “They compartmentalize so if one part of the ship gets blasted, you still have enough buoyancy to hold it up, so the water doesn’t flood out everything.”

Before Waguespack even made it to battle the Japanese, he had a personal battle to overcome first. He had seasickness. He was transported from Seattle to Hawaii and on the ship ride, he stomach couldn’t hold.

“When I got to Hawaii I literally kissed the deck, that’s how glad I was.”

Waguespack is one of the youngest to fight in WWII, and he remembers some things as if it happened yesterday.

“It was a Sunday evening and I vividly remember this one ship that sailed right through us and that night they sunk that ship next to us.”

After President Harry S. Truman decided to drop atomic bombs on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered and ended the war. As that took place, more U.S. troops were used to deport the Japanese out of the Philippine Islands and back to Japan. Ourso was in that number and found his hands full with the task.

He was shipped to Philippine Islands before the war ended and then sent to Korea after war ended to transport the Japanese back to Japan. He didn’t see any war action but was in war zone.

Like Waguespack, Ourso became ill. He caught pneumonia while training and was put him in a hospital for two weeks, then rehabilitation for a week. That set him back.

“That probably saved my life because the war ended before I could see action,” Ourso said, who served in the Army. “I thank God for that in a way.”

By the time Ourso was healthy, he was like an escort. But he said he saw a lot of places he would not have seen otherwise.

“I would do it over again if I have to,” Ourso said. “I enjoyed it, the traveling.”

As basically an escort of Japanese troops out of the mountains in the Philippines, Ourso ended up living with and protecting the Japanese. One of his biggest jobs was keeping the Koreans from killing the Japanese.

“A month or so earlier we were fighting and then we was living with them in Korea on a Japanese base,” Ourso said. “It was a funny thing. A lot of guys didn’t want to have anything to do with protecting the Japanese. They did so much harm to the Americans.”

Despite that, Ourso said what bothered him most was the climate. In the Philippines, they wore no shirts and it was hot and rainy all the time, but in Korea they weren’t prepared for the weather there.

“We had summer clothes in a freezing country,” Ourso said. “Man we were cold. They told us in two weeks we’d have winter clothes. Six weeks went by before we even got a coat.”

Ourso could have missed the war action all together and gotten deferred because his father was a small farmer. One of his brothers and another guy were deferred on his father’s account, and Ourso was offered the same, but turned it down.

“I was a young man, who wanted to see what was going on,” Ourso said and then laughed. “I didn’t know what danger was at that time. I’m glad I went and I’m glad I caught pneumonia.”

Waguespack added, “It’s quite of an experience we wouldn’t want to go through. We take a look back that we did and are proud that we have. It gives me the chills when I talk about it.”