Lunch Bunch toasts OC WWII vets
Photo: Veterans Day is officially observed Nov. 11 and most area government offices will be closed Monday to honor the sacrifices of all United States service members.
For The Record
As has become an annual custom, more than a dozen Orange County World War II veterans were set to be honored at Wednesday’s Veterans Day gathering of the Lunch Bunch at Robert’s Meat Market.
The men and women, all in their 90s, were there Nov. 5 to share good conversation, meals and birthday cake.
The cake marked the 98th birthday of longtime Bridge City resident Cedric Stout, who was there at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when the United States was catapulted into combat against the world takeover plans of Germany and Japan.
Civic business and government leaders in attendance at Robert’s and other 11/11 remembrances celebrate the soldiers, sailors, Marines, Coast Guards, merchant marines and flyers of the “Greatest Generation” still among us as heroes.
But while Stout and his cohorts often say, “the real heroes are the ones who didn’t come home, the ones who gave it all,” Veterans Day honors all American armed forces veterans.
The tradition of Veterans Day began after the end of World War I when Armistice Day began being celebrated to mark the peace agreement with Germany, which was enforced on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
Armistice Day was declared a national holiday in 1938 and officially renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
More than 16 million Americans served their country during World War II and just more than 400,000 of them died during the war.
The U.S. Veterans Administration reported that fewer than 400,000 American World War II vets remain alive.
More than 20 call Orange County home.
They are listed below:
J.B. ARRINGTON, 94, U.S. Navy, Orange: The owner of Orange’s J.B.’s Barbecue restaurant sailed both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. He patrolled for German U-boat (submarines) and performed sea rescue operations. By the time the Americans landed in France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Arrington had been transferred to the Pacific to help turn back the Japanese.
ATHANASE “Junior” BENOIT, 91, U.S. Navy, Merchant Marines, Bridge City: Benoit forged his father’s signature on a lie about his age to enlist in the U.S. Navy at age 14 but was discovered and dismissed before shipping overseas. The 16th of 17 siblings from Gueydan, Louisiana, returned from California to Port Arthur, where he became a Merchant Marine, crewing on ship shuttling fuel and supplies from the Caribbean to Europe.
LENNIE BENOIT, 96, U.S. Army Air Corps, Toomey, La.: Born on a rice farm near the state line, Benoit worked 40-plus years for U.S. Steel/Consolidated Shipbuilders in Orange. After enlisting in 1943, he served two-plus years in the South Pacific supplying island-hopping air operations as truck driver and dispatcher.
JOSEPH BERGERON, 92, U.S. Army, Orange: This graduate of the Prairie View School in what is now Bridge City, was in California for basic training in 1945 when the Americans detonated nuclear bombs over Japan, ending hostilities of World War II. He spent the next two years in Germany, as a driver for a staff officer.
FRANK BERGERON, 96, U.S. Marines, Starks: The older brother of Joseph Bergeron, this Orange native saw combat duty in both the European and Pacific Theaters during World War II.
TOM BROOKS, 95, U.S. Army, Mauriceville: The Louisiana native has lived in Southeast Texas since being discharged in 1946 and taking a job with Gulf Oil. He was a member of the 82nd Airborne paratroopers, quartermasters corps. He spent nearly two months shivering in the Black Forest behind the fighting at the Battle of the Bulge. Coming home, he marched down New York City’s Fifth Avenue in front of 4 million cheering parade watchers Jan. 12, 1946.
BILL CONWAY, 91, U.S. Marines, Orange: Like Joe Bergeron, Conway was in basic training in 1945 when World War II came to an end. Instead of fighting, he sailed to China for some post-war guard duty and reconstruction work. He made the military his life, enlisting in the Army for the Korean War and becoming a combat engineer; serving with the Navy Seabees building roads in Vietnam in 1968-69.
MILLARD COX, 95, U.S. Army, Bridge City: A member of the 78th Combat Engineers, he saw overseas duty in the Philippines and, after the war, in Japan. Duties involved helping to supply the troops and rebuilding.
J.D. DIXSON, 95, U.S. Marines, Orange: Served from 1944-45 in the Pacific, seeing action in Guam and Okinawa. Calls himself “Lucky.” “I ran over a landmine in a Jeep. It exploded right behind me. I couldn’t see and drove right over a bluff. I got out and was about 15 feet away when the first shell went over me. It had a direct hit on the Jeep.”
RAY FONTENOT, 99, Orange, U.S. Army Air Corps:
MAURICE FOURNET, 96, Mauriceville, U.S. Army Air Corps – An aerial gunnery instructor at Harlingen Army Airfield for three years, the Louisiana native and Port Neches High grad re-enlisted in the Air Force Reserve during the Korean Conflict but was not called up. He used his GI bill to collect degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, then founded Beaumont’s Matrix Engineering.
EUGENE GOUDEAU, 95, Orange, U.S. Navy – The son of an Orange sawmill worker signed up in 1942 and spent three years as a 5-inch gunner on the USS Dyson, a destroyer built in Orange and destined to take part in 27 sea combat battles in the Pacific Theater during Goudeau’s time aboard ship.
ED HYATT, 97, Orange, U.S. Army: A transplant from Louisiana and Arkansas, Hyatt graduated from LSU and was a lieutenant in an artillery company when he shipped out to England late in 1944. He was commanding 105-mm howitzers in the 43rd Tank Battalion attached to General George Patton’s Third Army as the Allies fought their way into Germany to bring an end to WWII.
ROY McDANIEL, 95, Orange, U.S. Army – The Louisiana native never saw combat in his tour, 1943-46, spending much of his time in California. He moved to Orange in 1946 and worked for Chemical Row plants for 45 years.
BURDETTE OLDBURY SR., 92, Mauriceville, U.S. Navy – For two weeks in December 1944, in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines, the crew of the destroyer USS Reid was called to battle stations 10 times a day. Finally, on Dec. 11, 1944, after an attack by a dozen Japanese planes and the shooting down of seven of those planes, the Reid was sunk. Oldbury was among 150 members of the 253-member crew that was pulled from the Pacific Ocean.
The Vidor native has been a carpenter and cabinet maker in Mauriceville since 1946.
RUBY PARKS, 96, U.S. Coast Guard, Orange: A former member of Orange High’s famed Bengal Guard drum and bugle corps, Parks was working for Orange’s Texas Creosoting Plant when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and was stationed in New Orleans as a part of the coastline protection. Parks later served as division president for the National Secretaries International.
JOHN M. PITTMAN, 93, Bridge City, Army – The infantryman reached France 6 months after D-Day and was wounded in March of 1945. The central Texas native rejoined his unit after the German surrender and served as part of the Honor Guard for U.S. Gen Mark Clark in Germany until mid-1946.
ROBERT ROTHROCK, 93, Orange, Navy – The Fort Worth native spent three years in the Pacific aboard the troop ship USS American Legion, a converted ocean liner. The ship put Marines on beach in Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and the Solomon Islands.
PAUL A. ROY JR., 92, Orange, Navy – Joining the fight in the Pacific in 1945, Paul worked in supply at a Naval Air Base on Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. His squad helped put together one of the first Cold War atomic bomb tests.
STANLEY SIMON, 98, Orangefield, Army – A 1940 enlistee, this Orangefield native was a staff sergeant with the 60th Antiaircraft Artillery Division when he landed during the 1944 D-Day invasion. After helping liberate France, he was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, the final major battle in Europe, suffering frostbite and wounds from an explosion that gave him blurred vision and permanent hearing loss.
CEDRIC STOUT, 98, Bridge City, Navy – A Pearl Harbor survivor, having been one of the fortunate surviving crew members of the USS Utah, sunk on Dec. 7, 1941 by the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian naval base that plunged the U.S. into World War II. Stout spent the rest of the war as an engine mechanic on a number of destroyers and smaller ships.
Recently deceased World War II veterans
Ralph Barrientos, 92, Orange, Army, d. 11/20/18
Doug Burch, 93, Orange, Navy, d. 2/16/19
Harry Fulton, 91, Orange, Navy, d. 4/17/19
Levan Myers, 95, Orangefield, Army, d. 7/28/19
If you know a living World War II veteran from Orange County who should be on this list, please contact Dave Rogers at email@example.com or call 409-886-7183.