“I was only 11 when the war started,” recalls June Wisher, 79, a LaPlace resident who grew up in St. Charles Parish. “It’s ingrained in my memory. I was at my grandparents’ house…It was a Sunday afternoon and they were listing to the radio.
“Then a bulletin came over the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor…That’s how it started.”
When World War II broke out June lived in Good Hope, a town that no longer exists but was between where Norco and New Sarpy are now.
After the war began, June said that the parish became a war zone complete with ration books, military lookout posts and nighttime air-raid drills.
“We had drills at night where we always had to keep our windows and shades down. They told us that (enemy planes) could see the smallest light from the air,” June said. “There was also an outlook post and some of the men from the community would be on the lookout for enemy planes because we had the Shell oil refinery and we also had the terminal because they had a tank farm right near the river…I’m sure that they were filled with explosive things because people weren’t allowed to go around those places.”
The war wasn’t all bad, though.
The community was brought together to help fold bandages for the Red Cross and the girls were taken to dances at the USO.
“The USO would come to get the girls on Saturday evenings for dancing. They would bring them to the base to help entertain the soldiers that were away from home,” she said. “I always wished that I could go but I was just 12.”
Little did she know that just over a decade later she would marry a WWII veteran.
Charles Wisher, 84, was an Army Air Corps gunner on a B-29 airplane and was stationed at Camp Churo on Tinian in the Pacific during the war.
The Wishers have been married for 55 years now, but they can still remember the years of the war from before their marriage.
“I remember a lot. We were young and it made an impression on us,” June said.
“People have to know that things were not really that great and maybe the best thing that could happen was that our dads and moms would walk us over to Mr. Hall’s Drug Store and get an ice cream cone,” June said, adding that the drug store was actually owned by project leader Nicole Hall’s great-grandfather. “There were no telephones, no TVs, no dishwashers, no hot water heaters, no movie theaters, and only some people had cars, not everyone. We had to entertain ourselves by playing with jacks, playing hopscotch and paper dolls and jump rope…and the guys played marbles.”
Charles, being a veteran, was a little less enthusiastic about his memories from during the war.
“Some of the stuff from the war I try to forget,” he said. “I can remember more from before the war.”
But there is a lot that Charles remembers from his time on Tinian, the island where the planes carrying the atomic bombs took off from before dropping them on Japan.
“The Japanese had a big sugar industry (on Tinian). When the Marines took the island, they put civilians in a central camp and used them to do work around the island for us,” Charles said. “The service brainwashed us to not care about whether we lived or died – just to kill the Japanese.”
However, Charles said he became friendly with a civilian while on the island who he now wishes that he had kept in contact with.
“I couldn’t explain why I became friendly with this guy when I hated the Japanese like I did, but it was probably good for me,” he said.
Charles has memories from the war that even most veterans can’t brag about, like flying over the U.S.S. Missouri while the empire of Japanese surrendered.
After the war, both June and Charles attended college. June graduated from Ursuline College with a degree in home economics. Charles graduated from Auburn University with a degree in engineering before moving to the parish for work and meeting June.
Now, 55 years after being married, the two are going to help the students at DHS put together a cumulative history of the parish completely from local residents.
Nicole Hall, a teacher at DHS, received a $4,100 grant from Norco Advisory Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Greater New Orleans Foundation to do this. “It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do, but we’ve never had the funding to do it the right way,” Hall said.
Any parishioners who lived in St. Charles Parish during WWII and were of school age are still invited to participate in the project by contacting Nicole Hall at (985)764-9946 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If more people want to get in touch, we can arrange an interview at any time of the day around their schedules,” Hall said. “I’m so excited about it, I don’t even know what to do with myself.”