A tiny notice in the “Times Picayune” was all the attention that Uncle Aaron’s death drew – and they spelled his mother’s name wrong. She was Eugenie, not Virginia. They got the B right. Her maiden name was Benoit.
In fairness to the newspaper, the casualty list was pretty long at that point in 1945. There were a number to list.
Uncle Aaron wasn’t my uncle. He was my mother’s uncle. He died in France during World War II and is buried there. To us, he’s always been a hero.
I wondered – years ago – what became of Uncle Aaron’s Purple Heart. For years, it hung on the wall of his sister’s house in Morgan City. The medal’s materialized. It’s now in the possession of a distant family member. I’m glad to see it survived. It’s an important testament to Uncle Aaron’s sacrifice – and a much more fitting tribute than the tiny newspaper item.
More from my grandmother’s attic, this time from “The Houma Daily Courier” of March 4, 1990.
Trudy Volsin Hebert of the Terrebonne Genealogy Society wrote about the history of the Hebert family. As anyone from Louisiana knows, the Hebert family is huge. I used to joke that my mother (an Hebert by birth) was related to Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert – and I’m sure they are related …. somewhere along the line.
But back to Trudy. She detailed how the Heberts are descended from two brothers. See, we are related to Bobby Hebert. Again, just don’t ask me how.
I’ll summarize Trudy’s article.
According to Trudy, most Heberts in Louisiana descend from Antoine (born 1621) and Etienne (born 1625).
Antoine married Genevieve LeBlanc. The couple traveled to Acadia with Antoine’s brother Etienne and settled in Port Royal.
Etienne married Marie Anne Gaudet (daughter of Jean Gaudet and Nicole Coleson). Together, they had:
Marie, born 1651 and married Michel La Forest (or Foret) – son of Henri. Michel later married Jacqueline Benoit. Marie and Michel had Gabrielle, Michel, Pierre and Rene.
Marguerite born 1652 and married Jean Jacque Le Prince. They had Anne (died in Maryland), Marguerite and Jean (married Jeanne Blanchard).
Emmanuel born 1654 and married Andree Brun (daughter of Vincent Brun and Marie Renee Brot). Emmanuel died Dec. 1, 1744.
Etienne born 1654 and married Jeanne Comeau (daughter of Pierre Comeau and Rose Bayol). Etienne died Nov. 2, 1713 in Grande Pre, Acadia.
Jean born 1658 and married Jeanne Doiron (daughter of Jean Charles Doiron and Marie Anne Carol).
Francoise born 1661 and married Jean Comeau (brother to Jeanne who married Etienne). Francoise died on Feb. 13, 1713. Her husband remarried to Catherine Joseph.
Catherine born 1662 and married her first cousin Jacque LeBlanc (son of Daniel LeBlanc and Francoise Gaudet). She married a second time to Phillippe Pinet or Pinelle.
Martine born 1665 and married Nicholar Barillot.
Michel born 1666 and married Elizabeth (Isabelle) Pellerin (daughter of Francois and Andree Martin Pellerin). Michel died on Jan. 20, 1736 in Grande Pre.
Antoine born 1670 and married Jeanne Corporon (daughter of Jean and Francoise Savoie Corporon). He married a second time to Ann Grillion dit Champagne (daughter of Charles Orillion dit Champagne and Marie Bastarache).
Etienne died in 1670 after fathering a very large family. Marie remarried to Dominique Garault and had another child, Marie, born in 1676. Daughter Marie married Jerome Darias and ended up in Virginia.
I’m one of those people who likes to tie up every loose end. Genealogy is very frustrating for people like me.
If you research your family tree, just embrace the fact that you’re not going to be able to solve every riddle. Courthouses burn down. Ministers forget to write down information. Bibles get lost.
My great-great grandparents Jean Severin Hebert (better known as John S. Hebert) and Rosalie Penisson had 12 children. I have no idea what happened to two of those children: Malvina and Mary Josephine.
Let me point out that I have tracked down every other child. For the most part, I know their stories. I know that one son killed himself in the bayou behind my grandparents’ house when he ran out of coffee rations. I know that two sons were lifelong bachelors who lived together in a shack. I know that one of the twins had her own twin daughters.
Yet I know next to nothing about Malvina and Mary Josephine.
Malvina appeared on the 1880 census as a 5-year-old and then vanished. I’m sure that she didn’t go all Gone Girl. She probably died young although she could have married and had 12 children of her own. I just don’t know. Not having the 1890 census complicates my research.
Mary Josephine never made it to the census record at all so she likely died young as well. However, I really don’t know because she would have been 18 on the only census that possibly could have captured her still living with her parents (she was born after the 1880 census and before the 1890 census that burned). I say “possibly could have captured her” because at 18 she likely would have been married by that point. Girls married young.
What’s frustrating is the Heberts were Catholic, and Catholics are very good at recording baptisms, marriages and deaths. If Malvina and Mary Josephine died young, there should be some record of it. There isn’t. If they married and had a million children, there should be some record of it. There isn’t. They’re simply lost to time.
I decided the other day to see what I could find out about my ancestor John S. Hebert (Jean Severin Hebert before he Americanized it) and his military service. I should add that I have little interest in wars and military history. My eyes kind of glaze over. So my challenge was to turn this into enough of a narrative to interest even me.
There were 297 Heberts from Louisiana who fought in the Civil War. This is not surprising. In Louisiana, Hebert is like the surname Smith.
Of those 297, 296 fought for the Confederacy and one fought for the Union. I don’t know who Hillaire Hebert was, but he was the lone Hebert to pick the winning side.
And there’s my ancestor. He was in the 26th Regiment of the Louisiana Infantry. Their big battles were Chickasaw Bayou and Vicksburg.
I started with his pension application that John S. Hebert submitted in 1907. At the time, he would have been 69. He listed 10 children (6 boys and 4 girls). Let’s see if he got that right.
Two of the Hebert children died young (Malvina and Mary Josephine) so he did have 10 living children in 1907. The girls: Marie Arcene, Rose, Eve, Rosalie and the twins Cleona and Leona. The boys: Alexis, Jules, Seraphin and Adam. He did get it right!
Here’s John S. Hebert’s signature:
And here’s his recollection of his unit:
That means he was 24 when he went off to war. A little over a year later, he was captured and promised never to take up arms against the United States again.
John S. Hebert seemed a little confused about a question on the pension application inquiring whether he took the oath of allegiance to the United States during the war. He wrote “yes,” then “no.” Then he drew a line through both responses.
I don’t know if he got his pension, but I was interested to read more about his war prisoner details. The family story – as far as I remember my grandmother telling it – was that he was captured, put in prison and then walked home after the war ended.
According to John S. Hebert himself, he was taken at Vicksburg, paroled in St. Martin Parish and exchanged at Red River Landing. At least I think that’s what he wrote. His handwriting wasn’t the best.
So I went in search of other records, starting with learning more about Company B.
Look! There he is on the roster. John S. Hebert later married a girl named Rosalie Penisson. The Penissons who served with him in Company B would become his brothers-in-law. Alcide Polaski’s sister, Elodie, married John S. Hebert’s brother, Gedeon. Gedeon, by the way, was four years younger than John S. but he was further up in the ranks than his big brother. Gedeon was a first corporal in Company B while John S. was just a private.
One of the great things about the internet is that it puts you in touch with other family tree researchers without relying on snail mail and classified ads in genealogy magazines.
Through the internet, I’ve learned a lot about my g-g-grandfather John S. Hebert (Jean Severin Hebert) and his family.
John S. was a blacksmith by trade who fought in the Civil War and walked home from prison camp after the war ended. He married and had many, many children. He lived in a house on the bank of a bayou. All of this, I already knew.
What I didn’t know before talking to other researchers, was what unfolded for his siblings. Those details produce a fuller picture of John S. Hebert’s life.
Once upon a time, there were four Hebert brothers who grew up in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. All of them went off to the Civil War. All of them returned home safely. After the war, they came to a fork in the road. Two brothers settled in New Orleans. Two brothers settled along Bayou Boeuf.
Here’s Gideon, who raised a family in St. Mary Parish:
Alexis Jr. worked for the U.S. Mint:
Jules opened a saloon in New Orleans:
Now, if only I could track down a photo of John S. Hebert!
I was searching the Internet for information about my Great Uncle Aaron Hebert when I stumbled across a great website. It’s a memorial for fallen soldiers in the Morgan City and Tri-City Area. Here’s the link: http://www.fallenwarriorsmemorialmorgancity.com/
Now I was born in Thibodaux, and I’ve always heard of Morgan City referred to as the Tri-City area, but I had to look up what the three cities are. I’m not positive, but I think it means Morgan City, Berwick and Patterson.
Uncle Aaron didn’t come from any of those cities. He was born and reared in Bayou L’Ourse, which was apparently close enough for the memorial organizers. At some point, I begged a family member with possession of the old family photos to loan them to me so I could scan them in. The only photo we have of Uncle Aaron was among them. I sent his picture to the memorial. Now there will be a face with the name.
I’m honored that Uncle Aaron was included in the memorial. He died long before I was born, but we were always told about him. He died in France during World War II. The story is that he was a military cook who got tired of cooking and volunteered to become a soldier. He died a week later – or so the family story goes. It’s probably more likely that he was a cook initially and then pressed into battle as the ranks thinned. I decided to go in search of the real story. Excuse me while I put on my Nancy Drew hat – and please excuse how incredibly long this entry is. I want to show just how much genealogy records can tell you about a relative.
We’re very proud of Uncle Aaron. He died defending his country, and I can only imagine that joining the military was a bit of a culture shock for him.
The 1940 Census showed Aaron living with my great-grandparents, Jean Jules Hebert and Eugenie Benoit Hebert, in Assumption Parish. Also at home were Uncle Wilfred and Uncle J.T.
Uncle Aaron’s occupation was listed as moss picker. I never quite understood the moss picking industry until recently. What did they do with the moss? Someone explained to me that it used to be mixed with another substance to finish walls. It was the olden day drywall.
As for education, a 23-year-old Uncle Aaron was listed as finishing the 5th grade, which probably was about right. My grandfather, who was his brother, didn’t get any further than that. You went to school until you were old enough to work. My family lived off the land and the bayou.
Uncle Aaron’s native language was listed as French. This is interesting to me. I would imagine this means that he learned French at home first and then English during his few years in school. However, he must have mainly spoken French since he considered this his native language. I wish my granny had spoken to me only in French so I could have learned that Cajun French. Instead, she was quite proud to know English and refused to teach her children or grandchildren Cajun French. That native language made her feel backwards.
The same year the census was taken, Uncle Aaron filled out his draft card. My grandfather filled out one as well, but he had flat feet. 1940 was before the U.S. entered World War II. However, things were tense on the worldwide stage so men 18 to 65 had to fill out draft cards in preparation.
The draft card can tell you interesting factoids about your ancestor. For example, at the Hebert manse, there was no phone in 1940. I also learn that Uncle Aaron was born five days after Christmas in Amelia, which is across the bayou from Bayou L’Ourse. I don’t know if he was actually born in Amelia or if he just listed that since it was the closest town with a post office. I now know he worked for Martial Creador. I assume this was someone at the moss gin listed on the census.
So then I went further afield and found my great-grandfather’s draft card. It shows me that he couldn’t sign his name so he apparently received zero schooling. His name also is listed as Jules Judeon Hebert when in fact it was Jean Jules Hebert. His mother came from a wealthy family so I always assumed that she received an education and would have taught her children to read and write. Apparently I was wrong. It’s also possible that Jules didn’t understand what he was being asked. He only spoke French. I know this because my mother only spoke English and could never really converse with him even though she grew up next door to his house.
But back to Uncle Aaron. Now I want to know when he enlisted. I should probably add that Uncle Aaron, who was all of 28 when he died, never married or had children. There was really no one to carry on his story.
Enlistment records on Ancestry.com (no plug) tell me he enlisted on March 7, 1942, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They put him down as enlistment for the duration of the war or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to the law. In other words, the military owned him. This was just a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
I know that three years later he died on the battlefield. What happened in between? For that, I had to send off for his official military records, which were a pain to get. Only a direct relative can get a person’s military records. Uncle Aaron didn’t have a wife or kids. His parents were dead (his mom died a few months after he did). He had no living siblings. Fortunately, his sister-in-law (my grandmother) was still living so I made the request in her name with her permission, and I may have fudged a little and listed her as his sister.
What we received was something called Individual Deceased Personal File, which really told me nothing about his military record. It did take me to a snowy village in France just after Christmas.
Uncle Aaron’s date of death was an estimated January 5, 1945. He was buried fully clothed in a mattress cover with upper extremities disarticulated. I really didn’t need to know that, but there it was. He was buried in Epinal, France. Uncle Aaron is there to this day, above the Moselle River in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. My cousin make a trek out to the cemetery while living in Paris, becoming the first member of the family to visit Uncle Aaron’s final resting place.
He was identified by a tag on his belt and trousers. His cause of death was SFW Rt. Groin, which I gather means he was shot straight through his groin. Ouch. Poor Uncle Aaron.
His place of death is listed as Vic. Wingen-sur-moder, France, and the report maintains that he actually died on Jan. 7, 1945. What I think is more likely is that his body was found on Jan. 7, and that he did indeed die very early on Jan. 5. However, we’ll probably never know for sure.
Wingen-sur-moder was a small French town that had the misfortune to have a railroad line above it. A railroad line, of course, would be important during wartime. It was snowing and bitterly cold in early January 1945. The snow was waist deep in spots. Germans with experience fighting in Finland attacked.
The U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry, was in charge of defending the French town but was caught off guard by the surprise attack. North of the town was the 276th Infantry with Uncle Aaron in its ranks.
The attack hit late on Jan. 3. The Germans took hold of Wingen and basically wiped out the entire 179th 1st Battalion. Those not killed were injured or captured and herded into the town’s Catholic church.
Uncle Aaron wasn’t in the town. He was in Company B, cut off from the rest of the battalion, high above Wingen.
Uncle Aaron’s company set up camp northeast of Wingen. What the company didn’t know is that they were directly in the SS battalions’ path.
They pitched tents, not wanting the clang of shovels against frozen ground to alert the Germans to their location. In other words, they didn’t dig foxholes. The Germans surprised them as they slept, sneaking up and getting on top of the machine guns. The Germans taunted, urging Uncle Aaron and the other American soldiers to fire so they could see where they were and shoot them. It was a massacre.
Here’s an account of the aftermath: “At the top of a ridge we unexpectedly came upon the frozen bodies of many men, scattered about, frozen in the snow where they fell. They were almost all in American uniforms. Some were still halfway in their tents and sleeping bags. Some were without boots. Lost buddies…Gear and equipment were strewn about, but weapons, ammunition and rations had been removed. Despite the cold, the scene smelled of death and gunpowder. Trees had been shaved by bullets and in places spent cartridges had melted the snow. We did not count the dead, but the numbers overwhelmed us; there could easily have been 50 to 100, or even more, GIs, and only a few – maybe five or six – Germans. We knew immediately that the American corpses had been in Co. B, which occupied the barracks next to us at Leonard Wood, marched ahead of us in formation and shared the ballroom on the West Point. We did not know what happened, but I realized what ‘wiped out’ meant, and to the extent I could absorb it at the moment, what this war meant. McCord and I were silent for a long time, and I didn’t know which of us emerged first from the shock, but we did not have time; we had to do our work and catch up with the company.”
Uncle Aaron posthumously received the Purple Heart for his service. I hope he’s resting in peace.