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Old 12-26-2008, 10:27 PM   #1
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'Swamp Angels'

WAR IN THE GULF: 'Swamp Angels' Conducted rescues in south Louisiana marsh
by C.J. Christ

As appeared Sunday, April 1, 2001 in The Courier (Houma, Louisiana)

In the urgency to protect our shores and our shipping during World War II "The U.S. Coast Guard created the most unusual military outfit to serve in the war" said Collier’s magazine. For an article in their October 1944 issue, interviewing and photographing this unique group proved their statement.

From notes and interviews I have conducted, I fully agree.

In early 1942, and into the spring and summer, the German U-boat offensive in the Gulf of Mexico was overwhelming our shipping and panicking our Navy. The knowledgeable citizens along the Louisiana coast were also very concerned about possibilities of bombing, saboteurs or even invasion.

This map, created by David Norwood, depicts the section of south Louisiana coast where the Swamp Angels conducted rescue operations during World War II.

This map, created by David Norwood, depicts the section of south Louisiana coast where the Swamp Angels conducted rescue operations during World War II.
Enter William Winford Hawkins, wealthy, retired oilman from Lafayette, Louisiana and a very serious duck and goose hunter (he was one of the organizers of Ducks Unlimited in 1937 and 1938.)

In a conversation with Mrs. Mabel Roy Hawkins, she told me the following story about her husband. "Early in the war, ‘Win’ communicated with the Coast Guard in New Orleans (then part of the 8th Naval District) and offered his help including his spacious hunting camp at Grand Chenier, in Cameron Parish, south of Lake Charles, Louisiana. They more or less told him ‘Look, Mr. Hawkins, we’re pretty busy fighting a war right now.’"

"Well, within a few weeks, a meeting was called in New Orleans with attendance by Customs, Immigration and Coast Guard officials all along the coast to Brownsville, Texas."

"Two officials travelling just east of Lake Charles along Highway 90 stopped to pick up two hitch hikers and soon noticed they spoke almost no English but spoke German! After asking where they came from and where they were going, they found out they had escaped Europe through Spain, to Cuba, and hired a boat to drop them off the South Louisiana coast. The Cuban captain refused to come within a quarter of a mile and they had to wade and swim the last few yards into Big Bayou Constance."

"The next question was ‘How many are there of you?’ The answer was ‘Twenty six in all’. Next question, ‘Where are the others?’ Answer ‘Back there in the ditch. We only hitch hike two at a time!’"

"It didn’t take long for the authorities to round up the rest of the group, and... It didn’t take long for the Coast Guard to call Win to New Orleans for a ‘little talk.’"

She had a laugh in her voice when she said "I waited in the car in the hot sun. When I looked up on the steps of the Custom House, I saw a naval officer coming toward the car that looked just like Win. When he got closer, it was Win! They commissioned him into the Coast Guard and told him to go back to Grand Chenier, organize a beach patrol, use his duck camp as headquarters, and ‘let us know what you need.’"

Mr. Hawkins’ report says that almost every man between 18 and 65 volunteered and they were patrolling the coast the very next night. Some of the men brought their own horses some brought dogs and patrolled on foot, and some stood watch in one of the three 50 foot towers built for observation. Many of the men could only speak French "But they knew that marsh like their own back yard."

When asked, "Why you?" Mr. Hawkins said, "Well, the Coast Guard asked me to draw them a detailed map of the area from Calcasieu Pass to the east end of Chenier au Tigre. I guess I shouldn’t have signed, because that’s where Admiral Farley, USCG, saw my name.

In a trip to Chenier au Tigre a few years ago, I interviewed Mr. Anthony "Toonie" Segura, still trapping at 80 years old. He remembered "We had stations every 12 miles or so. Each had its own barracks, kennel, some of the wives would cook. We took care of our own boats, built new ones if we needed ‘em, but we never saw any trace of a submarine."

Records show these "stations" were at Johnson Bayou, Cameron, Creole, Grand Chenier, Big Bayou Constance, Rollover Bayou, Mulberry, and Chenier au Tigre. The towers had a 14’ x 14’ platform and were 50’ high. Usually there was one man and a radio 24 hours a day. "There were two or three marsh buggies, one was run by Chief A.E. Morgan from Grand Chenier with an old Ford tractor motor in it," Segura said. (A.E. Morgan is the father of Clint Morgan of Houma.)

"About the only real important thing that ever happened was several rescues of crews from crashed airplanes. There was a training base in Lake Charles that did training for bomber crews. One crashed just offshore and by the time we got there, one man was already dead and the rest of the crew had already started across the marsh with only their drawers on. They saw a drilling rig and thought it was not very far away. When we finally found them they were nearly dead... cut by saw grass, completely exhausted, one man had burns from the crash, and they were all eat up by mosquitoes...couldn’t see, their eyes were ‘swole shut’." The official report shows that one man got a medical discharge from his experience.

"On another crash, we started to the crash site when an officer and fourteen men showed up and told us there was secret equipment (presumably the Norden bomb sight) aboard and that they would do the rescue. After we saw what they had- some kind of marsh buggy they called a caterpillar- we told them where to go, but later they bogged down and we had to get them all out."

When that rescue was over, we got back to the Mulberry Camp and an airplane from Beaumont showed up and indicated he was going to land in the marsh-it looks like grass from the air, I guess. We waved and waved but he landed any way and flipped over in the mud and caught fire. We had another rescue that day."

One more interesting, humorous story connected with the last crash. When a boat with some USCG officials arrived from Cameron early that evening, they were stopped at the entry of Bayou Big Constance by the "Swamp Angels". "We’re the Coast Guard" was the call from the boat.

"No, you’re not, we’re the Coast Guard" came the reply from across the water. The boat crew had to strip and swim the bayou and was finally given a very warm welcome.

Shrimpers assisted in saving lives after torpedo attacks
This unit was the only American military unit in World War II that was recruited, equipped, based, served and discharged in their own home neighborhood. They were alternately called the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Beach Patrol, Cajun Coast Guard, and Swamp Angels, the latter mane given them by the 35 airmen saved by their skills. Of the 23 unit personnel whose records I have on file, all show, "enrolled, served and discharged at Grand Chenier, Louisiana: Service-Beach Patrol."

There are many ways to serve your country. They did their best and should be honored for it.

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Old 12-26-2008, 10:48 PM   #2
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Thanks Sapo, I didn't know that this happened.....should have stayed awake in history class

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Old 12-27-2008, 09:44 AM   #3
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Thats cool SS. They also conducted war games at Old Camp Claybourn in Forest Hills La.. We used to go dirt bike riding there, All that remained were some bunkers old tank roads bulding foundations & a historic marker
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Old 12-27-2008, 09:53 AM   #4
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Great stuff Sapo. Interesting.
JB, You was lighter in the shorts back then on the dirt bike. Right?

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Old 12-27-2008, 10:33 AM   #5
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That's interesting. Thanks SS
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Old 12-27-2008, 03:53 PM   #6
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Great story. Thanks for sharing. Bit of history which was skipped at school.

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Old 12-27-2008, 07:45 PM   #7
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ss ;}-

That's cool, you must have time on yer hands
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Hey,not a reality yet but, there may be a cook-off here in Sept.
Kewep yer fingers crossed
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Old 12-27-2008, 09:30 PM   #8

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Thanks for that history lesson there SS. Being in the Coast Guard, I can appreciate it. There's a lot that goes on that most don't know about.

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Old 12-27-2008, 11:53 PM   #9
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Hey Carolina...seems like we have met before aint sure. My memory is sorta like the one Sick Willy got..it aint as good as it used to be. If not glad to meet you. Fact is some of best old drinking pals in the world was Coasties when we lived down at Corpus. Must confess one lived next door. I think he may have been a homo sapien if you get my drift..wink wink. They had some good partying over on whut they called North Beach. Was wall to wall Coastie Bars..tatoo parlors...hooer houses etc Makes me sick now all they got down there now is a Dolphin Show. They have even changed the name of the Beach. Now they call it Corpus Christi Beach. If that coastline is a beach somebody gonna have to show me. It just tar balls jelly fish and trash as far as I could tell. Sorta like Chernobyl. Now do enjoy the Lady Lex parked down there. Ya know an old boy you to post on one now defunct bbq list who was the Doctor on that Ship. The Mullet was my favorite bar..one of my best pals was the cookie on a Bouy Tender called the Mallet. I forget his name right now but dang me and that boy could knock out some beer and whiskey and chase some wild..wild wimmen back in them younger days. Does any of this sound familiar? Thanks.


Originally Posted by CarolinaQue
Thanks for that history lesson there SS. Being in the Coast Guard, I can appreciate it. There's a lot that goes on that most don't know about.

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Old 12-30-2008, 05:53 AM   #10

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Big, there stories sound all to familiar in content. However, it wasn't me there. Never been to Corpus, tried to get there, but it never worked out. But those stories can be true for any rue sailors town. I'm amazed some times that I didn't end up in a ditch or the brig!!! Maybe if I make it that way, I'll give you a shout and we'll have to remaniss (sp?) a bit.

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Old 12-30-2008, 02:54 PM   #11
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Well can do that. Moved off from Corpus the 2nd time in 74 or so. First time in 54.


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