The importance and success of South Louisiana American Soldiers, whose first language was French, played a critical part for the war effort in Europe and North Africa.
Historian Jason Theriot is on a mission - again. Twenty years ago he set out to record oral history interviews with World War II veterans from his hometown of New Iberia.
He started with his two grandfathers and expanded from there.
After five years, he had interviewed over a hundred veterans all across south Louisiana and chronicled their stories in a self-published trilogy titled To Honor Our Veterans: An Oral History of World War II Veterans from the Bayou Country.
A few years later, he interviewed another thirty or so veterans and wrote a Master Thesis for a history degree at the University of Houston on the subject of the “Cajuns of WWII.”
For that project, he stumbled upon two sets of untapped wartime letters written by the Cajun soldiers and sailors who constantly spoke about the use of their French language overseas. Many became interpreters for their units. Others were recruited by Special Forces to work with the French Resistance fighters in the Normandy invasion.
He completed that thesis project in 2007 and shelved it for later.
He went on to receive a doctorate in history and later started his own history research and writing consulting practice. He now writes books for companies and families.
The days of interviewing old war veterans seemed a distant past, until he was asked to share the stories of the Cajuns of WWII with our Acadian cousins at the Congres Mondial Acadien (Acadian World Congress) this August in New Brunswick, Canada.
The response he received was overwhelming.
Some people had heard of the stories about “Frenchie” - the nickname given to just about every Cajun who served overseas. But few, if any, fully understood the depth to which the Cajuns utilized their language during the war and, more importantly, how that experience changed their view on their culture and heritage.
For the first time, the Cajuns recognized their unique place in the world and re-discovered a long-lost pride in being Cajun.
These were the people who planted the seeds for a cultural revival that swept through Acadiana in the 1960s and 70s. The proof is the wartime letters and in the testimony of the veterans themselves.
Theriot’s new mission is to find the last few remaining veterans to interview, along with any letters or previously recorded interviews that may require digitization. If anyone would like to contact Jason Theriot about this project, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 713-417-3380.