Memorial Preparations Underway For Historic USS Ponchatoula

PONCHATOULA, LA (AP) — May 16 will be a special day in Ponchatoula when the USS Ponchatoula Memorial to be located on the grounds of the Collinswood Museum will be dedicated.

         The 10:00 a.m. ceremony will feature 35-40 members of the USS Ponchatoula Association, a group of veterans who served on the tanker ship when it was active.

         The Navy named the first ship for the community late in World War II following a scrap metal drive that far exceeded expectations. Because the first ship was activated so late in the war, as a salute to the community's patriotism, the Navy built and launched a second USS Ponchatoula in 1956.

         Both ships have been scrapped by the Navy, but before the second USS Ponchatoula was dismantled, members of the USS Ponchatoula Association claimed the rails from the rear of the ship and a flag mast, which will become major components of the local memorial.

         Mayor Bob Zabbia says weather delayed pouring the slab for the memorial. However, Zabbia said he has been assured by local contractor Ronnie Perrin, who is coordinating the project, that all should be ready in time for the ceremony.

         John Hearn, president of the USS Ponchatoula Association, has been in Ponchatoula assisting with the project. Hearn says it should take only about three days to put the slab in place. The relics from the ship are at Lafayette and will be brought to Ponchatoula when all is ready.

         About three years ago the association donated the ship's bell to the city, which was hung in front of city hall. Because there are no more USS Ponchatoula ships, this will likely be the "last hurrah" in terms of dedications, Hearn said.

         He said the USS Ponchatoula was the last of six Neosho Class tankers built by the Navy. Zabbia says the dedication will be a big event for Ponchatoula, and he invites the public to make plans to attend. Rear Admiral Ron Horton is scheduled as the guest speaker.

         The memorial will include benches for a sitting area, and will look almost exactly like the back of the ship.

         Zabbia commended Perrin for the good job he has done coordinating the project. "This is going to be a really nice addition to the city," Zabbia said.

         There are plans to enhance the garden area at the museum in the future.

         A special guest for the event will be Julia Welles Hawkins, who was instrumental to the success of the scrap metal drive that resulted in the ship being named for the city.

         Ponchatoula school students scoured the area for weeks in the spring and early summer of 1942, collecting almost anything that was metal. A total of 475 tons were collected, requiring 50 army trucks to move the metal to the railroad siding.

         Another drive was held in 1944 and 95 tons of metal were collected.

         Hawkins' class won the award for collecting the most metal.

         The coupe used by Hawkins to haul the metal to the high school where it was stored until picked up by the army is reportedly still in the possession of a family member.

         – by AP/ Reporter Don Ellzey with The Daily Star

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