WWII veterans reunite, share memories of service
BY CHRISTINE M. ARCENEAUX
Ascension section writer
DONALDSONVILLE -- "He still looks the same," Seaman 1st Class Joe Dinino said as he embraced fellow shipmate and World War II veteran Lezin Oubre.
As family members snapped photos and shot video of the extraordinary reunion, the two men shook hands and immediately started talking about old times.
On Dec. 27, Oubre drove from his home in Norco to meet his former shipmate. It had been 61 years since the two had seen each other but talked as if time had stood still.
They asked each other about fellow members of the USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) , men they knew for little more than a year but whom they relied upon heavily to get them through the war.
Advocate staff photo by PAUL RUTHERFORD
Joe Dinino, left, listens as Lezin Oubre tells a story about his days serving in World War II. The two men served together in the Navy during World War II and haven't seen each other in 61 years.
"We didn't change too much, huh," Dinino said.
According to Dinino's eldest daughter, Jo Ann Benoit, Dinino has been trying to locate Oubre since the summer and has searched for years to find someone who was on the U.S. Navy ship with him.
"He has always wanted to find someone," his wife, Joyce, added.
"Do you remember me steering the ship and turning it around twice," Dinino laughed. "I know this, we were all scared as hell when we saw those mines. The China Sea was full of them."
According to Dinino, the Japanese had placed mines all over the China Sea.
"The ones you could see were good," he added. "The one you couldn't, that was bad."
The two men, who told tales of seaplanes burning on the beaches, boarded the Navy ship in June 1945 when they were just 18. Their 14-month duty, which required them to perform repairs on damaged seaplanes and to rescue pilots whose planes were shot down, ended after
VETERANS from 1G
the summer of 1946. But before their feet would again touch land, their sea voyage would take them to Pearl Harbor, Midway, Tsingtao and Okinawa before finally heading through the Panama Canal to the Mississippi River and into New Orleans.
"Our ship was a sitting duck right there by the beach," Dinino remembered. Crew members used quadruple 40 mm short-range machine guns to shoot down kamikazes.
But despite the drudgery of war, both sailors admit that one of the worst times spent aboard the ship was when they were caught in a typhoon in the China Sea. The crew, Oubre said, lost all of their fresh water and evaporators and had "more water in the ship than we did in the ocean," Dinino remembered. Both men said the ship bobbed in the water like a cork.
"Did you ever get sea sick?" Dinino asked.
"Oh yeah," Oubre replied.
According to records, the USS Chincoteague initially sailed from San Diego in June 1943 for Saboe Bay in Santa Cruz Islands, where it tended seaplanes in support of operations in New Guinea. Less than two weeks after the ship arrived, it was badly damaged in multiple Japanese air attacks and towed back to the Mare Island Navy Yard, where repairs were completed in December 1943.
Chincoteague left Pearl Harbor in February 1944 and commenced a seven-month period of duty in the western Pacific. In addition to tending seaplanes, the ship also carried freight, mail and passengers in the Solomons, Marshalls, Gilberts, Mariana and New Hebrides as well as in other locations.
Following an overhaul, the ship commenced salvage and rescue duty in the Palaus in December 1944, and in February 1945 joined the Iwo Jima assault force. The ship's crew also tended seaplanes at Okinawa and at Tsingtao, China, between October 1945 and 1946 and then proceeded to Orange, Texas, for deactivation. The ship, which was heavily equipped with ammunition for aerial bombs and torpedoes, was decommissioned in December 1946. It was the last ship, Oubre believed, to have unloaded ammunition at a dock in Belle Chase, a story Oubre later discussed with New Orleans television reporter Bill Capo.
The conversation with Capo sparked Oubre's interest in trying to find Dinino. Although he contacted directory assistance, Dinino's number was not listed and Oubre reasoned that Dinino was dead.
"No," Dinino laughed. "I'm still alive. I'm still kicking."
Fellow American Legion buddy Dan Esquivel, who was instrumental in making the meeting possible, called out the names of other shipmates during their visit. Dinino and Oubre recognized some of the names, others they did not. Esquivel promised, however, to get both men a roster of more than 100 men who were initially on the ship.
According to Esquivel, several other Navy veterans living in southeast Louisiana were on the very same ship. Since his retirement, Esquivel has devoted his time to helping veterans reunite with lost friends and secure much-deserved awards such as The Bronze Medal.
"I've been trying to find some of those fellows," Dinino said. "I'm going to find Walter Breaux if he's not dead."
Breaux was on Dinino's ship and is a native of Louisiana.
As the two men continued to tell tales of their drunken escapades and tucking supplies including spam and chocolate cake in the ship's life rafts, Dinino's daughters coaxed them to the dinner table for a homemade spaghetti meal.
For Dinino and Oubre, discussing the war and their lives afterward seemed more important than eating.
"How can we remember all of that, me and you," Dinino asked. "We've still got a little brains."
Following the war, both seamen received $20 per week for 52 weeks from the U.S. government for their part in the war.
"With the money we'd saved while we were gone and that, none of us worked that summer," Oubre said.
"My mother thought we were a lost generation," he added as he shook his head.
Esquivel is trying to find other sailors who served with Dinino and Oubre. He asks that anyone knowing the whereabouts of a former USS Chincoteague sailor with the last name of Bourgeois who is believed to have lived in the St. Amant or Dutchtown area, to contact him at (225) 622-4619.
Esquivel is also searching for a Nolan or Joseph "Shorty" Martin, who also served on the ship in 1945-1946.