USS Ponchatoula Shipmates Association
AOG 38 AO 148 T-AO 148
June 10, 2003 The Daily Star Newspaper P.O. Box 1149 Hammond, LA 70404
Letter to the Editor,
This is an open letter to the citizens and local businesses of Ponchatoula, Louisiana from the USS Ponchatoula Shipmates Association, penned by PF Hammond, Secretary/Treasurer.
On behalf of our Association members, their wives and guests I want to thank you one and all for the absolutely wonderful time we had during our reunion in May of this year.
From the day we arrived to the last night of our stay, Pat Blades and her staff at the Microtel Inn treated each and every one of us like royalty. One of the ladies made reservations for 17 of us to dine at Ristorante Da Piero. The staff is to be commended because they did not skip a beat when we had a total of 29 show up; they just continued dispensing good food and service.
Mayor Dufreche organized an armada of Party Boats that entertained us with a tour of the local waterways including the Ponchatoula "river". We were then served a Crawfish Feast at the Kiwanis Club put on by Pul ‘Duiex Catering and hosted by the City of Ponchatoula and the Tangipahoa Parish Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Mayor made an appearance and said a few words of welcome and found himself immediately pressed into service. I’ll bet Julian never realized that part of his duties as Mayor of the City of Ponchatoula would be to teach a bunch of visitors from the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line how to peel, suck and eat crawfish. Mr. Mayor, on behalf of our Association, I want to thank you and the others who taught us the art (?) of eating crawfish.
After lunch we were given a brief history of the City of Ponchatoula and a tour of Collinswood Museum by Merlyn Wells. We then walked across the street and participated in a ceremony of lowering and again raising the largest American Flag flown in the State of Louisiana. This was all done under the direction of Ronnie Perrin, one of the local Minutemen. It was obvious to all present that a lot of those old sailors had not hauled that much line in over 40 years. All of our members and guests were impressed with the patriotism displayed by the citizens of Ponchatoula. It is obvious to the most casual observer that this is an everyday occurrence and not just since 9-11.
None of us thought that anything could top what we had experienced so far that day, until we arrived for dinner at C’est Bon Restaurant where Randy Tomeny and his staff put on a buffet that was fit for a king. One of the entrees was a Crawfish Lasagna . This dish was a hit with everyone because the crawfish had already been "peeled and sucked"; all we had to do was enjoy it along with four more exquisite entrees. Randy, you and your staff are to be complimented on the food and service we enjoyed. One of our members said that he and his wife would consider returning to Ponchatoula just to eat at C’est Bon.
On Thursday, May 7th we boarded a bus for one of two tours set up under the able direction of Yvette Cutrier of Dixeland Tours. We visited Laura and Oak Alley Plantations and dined at the Oak Alley Lunch Buffet. Our driver "BO" described the scenery and pointed out things of interest on the way out and back. He was very entertaining telling us some stories, but when he launched into a strong Cajun brogue we had a hard time understanding what he was saying.
This evening we had our Association Banquet at the Lions Club. The evening started off with Mrs. Cindy Newton acting as Mistress of Ceremonies for the opening ceremony consisting of the Covington High School Naval Junior ROTC, the Ponchatoula High School Stage Band under the direction of Mr. Ted Forrest and the invocation done by Deacon Larry Melancon. Thanks to Mr. Phil Alexander, the members of the Lions Club and the cooking expertise of J.R. Bardwell we all enjoyed an excellent steak dinner.
After dinner Mayor Dufreche made opening remarks of the evening and presented our Association President and Secretary/Treasurer Bill Lounsbery, and PF Hammond with Keys to the City. He also handed out Honorary Citizenship Certificates to the City of Ponchatoula to the members and wives of our Association attending the reunion.
Mr. Bill Lounsbery then spoke for the Association, and called the Mayor up to the microphone and with the help of RP Miller and PF Hammond presented him with an oil painting of the USS Ponchatoula (AO-148). An attached plaque reads "Presented to the citizens of the City of Ponchatoula, LA from the USS Ponchatoula Shipmates Association, May 8, 2003". Mayor Dufreche graciously accepted the painting on behalf of the citizens of Ponchatoula and said it would be displayed in a position of prominence in City Hall.
I (PF Hammond) completed the closing remarks by calling Cindy Newton, Pat Blades and Betty Stewart up to the front. I presented Cindy with a USS Ponchatoula ball cap, and thanked her for assistance with the flag ceremony. Next I presented Pat Blades with a dozen beautiful yellow roses for her part in making our stay in Ponchatoula as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Last and by all means – not least, Betty Stewart. I first spoke to Betty Stewart from the Tangipahoa Parish Convention & Visitors Bureau on the phone in June 2002, and my wife Bobbi and I visited Ponchatoula in September 2002 to set the stage for holding a reunion here. Betty took us to City Hall and introduced my wife and me to Mayor Julian Dufreche. During our conversation I explained that our Association has a banquet at each reunion and I wanted to extend and invitation to him and his staff. He picked up on that idea and recommended that we have our banquet at the local Lions Club and invite the whole city. Well as you all know, he did, and we did.
Over the past 11 months Betty Stewart and I have exchanged several hundred phone calls, email messages (all business of course) and fax’s between Vallejo, CA and Hammond, LA. The first thing Betty had to do was translate northern California thinking into something that was workable in Ponchatoula and from where I stand, she did a fine job. Betty’s easy going manner, her ability to deal with people and the ease in which she gets things done makes it a pleasure for people like me to put on a large event in the City of Ponchatoula. I presented Betty with a desk pen set with the following engraved comment: "To Betty Stewart - I could not have done it without you. PF Hammond"
When all the speeches were completed I called the members of the Naval ROTC Drill Team up to the front and thanked them for the fine job they had done in our opening ceremony. On behalf of our Association I presented each one of them with our Ponchatoula Reunion pin that had been designed for this reunion.
The last day of our stay found us on a bus again for a trip to New Orleans with our favorite driver "Bo", both entertaining and educating us down and back. We visited the National D-Day Museum, had lunch at Mulates and walked through the French Quarter.
That evening we had our farewell dinner in the Hospitality Room of our hotel. The dinner was catered by Murphy’s in Hammond. Needless to say the meal was the usual exceptional quality and enjoyed by all. Phillip Graziano and staff did an outstanding job. Thank you.
The next morning we all rather reluctantly I might add, departed in different directions to return to our homes. This is a reunion we will all remember forever My wife and I will return one day for a visit, and maybe I can find the lock that the "Key to the City" opens……PF