Much has been written and much has been said about the USS Ponchatoula but sometimes differing numbers on her bow, pictures, and dates of service confuse the uninformed.
Which is correct – a ship in World War II or a ship in the Vietnam War?
The answer is, “both”.
We’re familiar with the story locals tell about our cities collecting more scrap metal for World War II effort than any other community in the country and being honored by having the U.S.S. Ponchatoula named for our waterway. Many locals tell it from first-hand experience because they were some of the school children in the early 40’s who helped collect.
To further verify it, the teacher who spearheaded the effort of the winning 5th-grade class’ collection, Julia Welles Hawkins (age 101 in 2017) pops up now and then anywhere from here to national television.
Records show the first U.S.S. Ponchatoula (known as AOG 38) was a Sequatchie Class tanker, commissioned on October of 1944, leaving New Jersey for Norfolk, Virginia. She then traveled through the Panama Canal to California where she left January 19, 1945, to arrive in Pearl Harbor, February 1, 1945.
In March, she set sail for Canton Island in the Phoenix Islands as a ship for refueling during the war. She then continued to Okinawa in convoy to anchor off the beaches shuttling fuel from large tankers to smaller ships.
Websites for the U.S.S. Ponchatoula contain typewritten first-hand accounts by some of those on board describing bombing attacks by the Japanese, especially the feared suicide attacks that killed so many. One tells of the typhoon that hit, creating waves 60-80 feet high, enough to drive one large ship aground and onto an enemy mine on the beach. The website also includes heart-rending stories by those who endured Mother Nature in addition to the hundreds of Japanese attacks often over several days at a time.
AOG 38 remained in Okinawa until December 1945 when she returned to the States and was decommissioned in California, April 1946.
Since the Navy had begun replacing smaller and slower ships with larger and faster, a second USS Ponchatoula (AO 148) was commissioned January 12, 1956, and began her many years of service, being three times as long and twice as fast as the AOG 38.
She, too, was assigned to the Pacific Fleet and leaves a history too extensive to list including rescue operations and even aiding in the recovery of earlier spacecraft that splashed down in the Pacific. Ever in danger, her main duty was refueling war ships in the Far East from off the coast of Communist China to the South China Sea off the coast of Viet Nam.
The City of Ponchatoula is doubly blessed to share its name with these two ships as well as have a special kinship with the USS Ponchatoula shipmates who risked their lives in such perilous times and dangerous waters.
We continue to honor the surviving members and we continue to pay tribute to those who have gone.
A few written articles simply cannot begin to tell the story. Please visit the USS Ponchatoula Shipmates Association sites to learn more.