By Kim Howes Zabbia, The Last Hurrah, c.1985; p. 24.
In 1942, the federal government asked Ponchatoula High School to work on a homeroom wartime guidance program. The report which Principal Will Ed Butler submitted was the basis for the national high school victory corps in which youngsters all over the country collected scrap metal and worked to add their bit to wartime efforts.
PHS, though, collected the largest amount of scrap in Louisiana. “I remember stopping the car to pick up pieces of metal on the side of the road. It was wonderfully patriotic,” beams then student Mary Lou Pierson Burris.
As the metal was brought in, it was piled around the outside of the football field. The students collected so much that the circular pile could be seen above the top of the stadium.
“It looked like Mr. Vesuvius around the football field,” Mr. Butler said, “The kids went around with chalk and wrote Tokyo-Bound on the metal.”
The collection drive lasted about four to five weeks. The U.S. government gave the school about $1400 for the scrap, and Mr. Butler gave the kids a holiday. The army had to use over fifty trucks to haul away the scrap.
A year later, Mr. Butler received a letter from Washington, DC. A warship was to be christened the MS Ponchatoula in honor of the students’ effort.
“To celebrate, we had an assembly,” Mr. Butler remembers. “They sent a Colonel from the army, and he spoke to the grammar and high school. I think he took them in three shifts.”
On Sunday, July 30, 1944, at 4:00 P.M., the Merchant Ship Ponchatoula was launched at the East Coast Shipyard in Bayonne, New Jersey.