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Black WWII soldier honored during Veterans Day Parade in N.O.

13th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

It’s been an honor and a celebration that have been a long time coming, but U.S. Army and World War II veteran John Mack finally got his just due on Saturday, Nov. 10, as the Crescent City and the rest of the nation paused to remember the sacrifices and courage of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Saturday’s parade in New Orleans, which rolled through the French Quarter and the Warehouse District, was actually part of the state’s Bicentennial Military Parade.

In a story that spans two continents and makes a connection between Normandy and New Orleans, the dog tags of U.S. Army veteran John Mack were recently discovered in Normandy, France and returned to the U.S. nearly seven decades after World War II.

The dog tags were found by Frenchman Laurent Meslier and given to Louisiana Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne late last month in France. The family of John Mack, who hailed from St. Mary Parish, has agreed to donate the dog tags to the D-Day Museum. After a special ceremony held Saturday at the National D-Day Museum, the dog tags were added to an exhibit honoring the legendary “Buffalo Soldiers,” group with historical ties to New Orleans and a long list of accomplishments that date back to the late 1800s. The Buffalo Soldiers are credited with making it safe for early U.S. settlers to travel into the western frontier and with playing a key role in more than a handful of key U.S. military campaigns.

The U.S. 9th Cavalry Regiment was organized on September 21, 1886 in Greenville, La., near present-day Audubon Park in Uptown New Orleans, and mustered between September 1866 and March 31, 1867. According to Wikipedia, its first commanding officer was Colonel Edward Hatch. The men enlisted for five years and received $13 per month, plus room, board and clothing. Later they were dubbed “Buffalo Soldiers” because of the texture of their hair, courage on the battlefield and military prowess. The regiment’s motto was, and remains, “We Can, We Will.”

According to Wikipedia, the mustering, organized by Maj. Francis Moore, 65th U.S. Colored Infantry, formed the nucleus of the enlisted strength, and was obtained from New Orleans and its vicinity. In the autumn of 1866 recruiting was also established in Kentucky, and all the men of the 9th Cavalry were obtained from that state and Louisiana. The horses were obtained a St. Louis, Missouri.

Before he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1942, John Mack had been working on the Mariah Plantation n St. Mary Parish, which was owned by Prescott Foster, the uncle of former Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster.

According to information gathered by the Lt. Governor’s Office, Mack is believed to have been a part of the Red Ball Express, a truck convoy that delivered gas, oil lubricants, ammunition, food and other essentials to the front lines. Its members were mostly Black soldiers.

The convoy was established in August 1944 as U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton advanced across France into Germany. The convoy system stretched east from Saint-Lô, in Normandy, about 190 miles to Paris, and then to the front along France’s northeastern border. Mack served in Normandy; Rhineland, Germany and central Europe, according to Lt. Gov. Dardenne’s Office.

After returning home following World War II, John Mack found work in Louisiana as a truck driver. The father of nine children died in 1975, he still has relatives living in St. Mary Parish.

One of Mack’s living relatives was expected to receive his dog tags Saturday and present them to a military veteran who would carry them in the parade before presenting them to the National D-Day Museum.

This article originally published in the November 12, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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