For Carlyss resident Delton Menard, growing from a boy to a man was not a slow process; being thrusted into the middle of a world war will do that to a person. Menard, a Technical Sergeant who served his country in the U.S. Army Infantry, has seen combat in the Philippines and was days away from being sent to Japan when World War II ended.
In 2004, Menard felt the need to put pen to paper and record his time as an enlisted soldier, hoping to pass on his experiences during those crucial wartime years to his descendants.
Menard recently relived memories of that time, some painful and others funny, but all of them leaving an indelible mark on the man who will celebrate his 92nd birthday in July of 2018.
Born in 1926 and raised on a cotton farm in Pecan Island, Menard spoke only Cajun French when he began school. By the time he graduated from Welsh High School many years later he was fluent in two languages, had deep family ties and a strong work ethic.
When he enlisted in the Army in September of 1944, the United States had been at war for almost two years. In short order Menard found himself bound for Arkansas for basic training and then on to San Francisco, to be shipped overseas to the Philippines. This is where Menard would spend the duration of his wartime experiences, traveling from Leyte to Manila, and on to Luzon, constantly on guard for Japanese soldiers.
At night the soldiers slept and kept guard in foxholes that were dug in a circle. Every other soldier took a two-hour watch, sliding a watch between two soldiers by means of a string tied to each other’s boots.
Lying in his foxhole on his back with his rifle clutched to his chest, Menard was just dozing off one night when he heard something bounce off of a large rock next to his foxhole.
“Well I knew what it was,” he said. “It was a hand grenade and it hadn’t gone off.” Having rained earlier in the day, the soldiers had covered their foxholes with ponchos to keep water out, and, forgetting about the poncho covering his foxhole, Menard lobbed the hand grenade out of his hole only to have it detonate above his head when it struck his poncho.
“The only thing it did was it broke part of the stock on my rifle and a splinters flew off and got stuck in my arm … that’s all. There were holes in that poncho and all around me and it didn’t touch me,” he said. “If I hadn’t already believed in God, that would have made a believer out of me, I’ll tell you that.”
After making their way across the Philippine Islands, the soldiers learned they would be shipped to Japan as their next post. Menard said, “The most moving experience of my entire life is the day that the war ended. You see we were fixing to go invade Japan and they said they were expecting hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to be killed. I didn’t expect to live if we invaded Japan. I just knew I wasn’t going to come back.”
To kill time while waiting for the all clear to head to Japan, soldiers played dice, cards, and in one instance watched the same black and white film over and over to feel closer to home.
“In one scene there was a bathtub and we’re all 17-, 18-, 20-year-old kids. It showed a bathtub and all of a sudden a beautiful white leg came out of the bathtub. We couldn’t see the body at all, just that white leg. Well we started hooting and hollering.
“We thought it was a woman’s leg. The next scene they show about an 80-year-old man. He stood up. He was so old he didn’t have any hair left. You could have heard a pin drop. I think about that often. We just looked at each other the second night and kind of grinned.”
One night Menard decided to skip the movie because he had a terrible headache and instead curled up on his cot in the temporary tent he shared with six or eight other men. Suddenly gunfire broke out in the camp and Menard rolled under his cot. As the sounds grew louder he said he experienced the scariest and most dreadful moment of his life. Suddenly the top of his tent was shot off.
Menard later discovered that the company commander had shut down the film and told the camp that the atomic bomb had been dropped and Japan had surrendered. The soldiers started shooting their weapons into the air, thus resulting in the shot up tent and a quick halt to the celebration. “You can’t believe the emotions that I had — from one extreme to another. That moment was the most terrifying and the most gratifying of my life.”
With the war over, the focus of the American soldiers shifted. Menard and his company were shipped to Yokahama and remained in the bay for a month while demolition crews dismantled mines in the harbor.
Once they were allowed to land, their job consisted of gathering weapons from the Japanese. He said his experiences with the Japanese people were positive. “They were cruel, cruel people during the war and before the war. They were only doing what they were told to do, the same as I was.” He says that after the war ended the Japanese were the most generous people. “You can’t imagine how much people can change,” he said.
Shortly after returning to the United States, Menard met Della Mae Hebert, whom he married just a few months after meeting her. “I fell in love with her hair first,” he says. “Most of the girls at Pine Island would have given their eye teeth to marry me, but when I saw her, that was it.” He and his wife built a home in Sulphur, raised nine children, and he began a career at Cities Service which lasted for nearly 40 years before he retired. “We were married for 62 years and I miss her and pray for her and thank her every day for raising all those wonderful kids who are taking care of me now.”
Menard was in the U.S. Army Infantry for 32 months, from September of 1944 to May of 1947. He also enlisted in the Army Reserves for three years after his discharge from the Army.
All of his experiences during and after the war are recorded in his self-published book, “World War II — My Personal Story.”
Menard’s story is a fascinating account of one soldier’s view of a war that changed the world. For the generations that have come after him, it’s a useful tool to remember where we have been and how those years have impact on our lives to this day.