Pine Bluff News
By Pat Matheny

When Susie was the first to volunteer to hold this baby alligator, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Wednesday morning, Susie, Santana, and I packed the Explorer and drove up to the Pittsburgh Airport for our flight to New Orleans to attend the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion Reunion. As I’ve stated before, Marilyn Monroe and a teenage girl doesn’t pack lightly, so that kept it exciting while lugging everything through airports.

We arrived in the evening at the Wyndham Garden Baronne Plaza Hotel, which is located a block from the French Quarter (Canal Street). After we got settled in, Tommy and Dixie Thornton, Jack and Renee Swickard, Ed and Martha Knighten, Susie, Santana, and I ate at the Legacy Kitchen’s Oyster Counter + Taproom, where everyone wanted to experience the local cuisine…except me. I had a club sandwich.

Bright and early Thursday morning, we toured the Destrahan Plantation, the oldest documented plantation home in the lower Mississippi Valley and very rich in history. Following the tour, we took a swamp boat ride into the bayous. The tour guide/helmsman did a great job and towards the end of the tour, he pulled a live baby alligator out of a cooler and asked if anyone wanted to hold it. Surprisingly, Susie was the first one to volunteer…could have knocked me over with a feather. Of course, Santana was next and then it was passed around the boat where everybody held it…except me; I have stated before my feelings about anything that slithers or has scales.

That evening, our little “clique” dined at the Gallier’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar about two blocks away. Again, everyone chose local cuisine…I had a steak. Our dear buddy Tom Baca couldn’t attend the reunion, but he told Jack to bill him for the first round of drinks, so Jack and I picked out the most expensive martinis available…thanks Tom.

Friday morning, we toured the WWII Museum. About anything pertaining to the war is depicted in the expanse; it’s well done. In the theater we viewed the 4D movie called “Beyond All Boundaries” narrated by Tom Hanks. Then, we attended a dinner/show featuring the “Victory Belles”. There were three ladies (ie Andrew Sisters) dressed in period costumes and they performed all of the major songs that were popular during the war. They made it personal by mingling among the Veterans in the audience, while singing a few songs. It was a fantastic and very emotional performance. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend visiting the museum and definitely seeing the show.

In the evening, our “clique” again ate at the Gallier Restaurant. This time I ate the blackened redfish which was highly recommended by Renee. It was actually very tasty…thanks Renee.

Saturday, we, with Tommy and Dixie, ventured to the Jackson Square and Bourbon Street area in the French Quarter. It took two trolley rides and a lot of walking to reach the destination. We found a place to eat and then we took a guided tour of the area in a wagon pulled by a mule…its name was ‘Brown Sugar’. Nawlins is a wild, fun loving, and crazy place.

In the evening, we had our final banquet in the hotel. The food was great and along with all of the war stories, good fellowship was enjoyed by all. Thanks to Mike and Katherine Breaux (Native Cajuns) for planning such a memorable reunion.

On our return trip, we ran into a little snafu while checking in ‘check in’ baggage at the N.O. Airport. One bag was two lbs. overweight (Souvenirs). So, we started distributing weighty things from that bag to Santana’s ‘check in’ bag (We both stood on top to rezip) and my ‘carry on’. When I rechecked it in, I was two lbs. to the good. But, when the ‘carry on’ went through screening, it was kicked to the side. When the security guy went through it, he found a pint jar of some Louisiana cuisine which weighed 16 oz…only allowed 7 oz. in ‘carry on’. I gave the guy a sob story about how it happened to be there. The nice gentleman said, “Ok, but don’t do it again”. Of course, I said, “I promise”! So, I hope Susie really enjoys her, “Aunt Sally’s Praline Pecan Topping”.

Until next time, have a great week and remember our Veterans.

Pat