Houma, LA – A Houma Indian named Antoine Francis fought for our country in World War II alongside many other Native veterans who were proud to serve. His story certainly did not end there. His sister Corine Francis Paulk still continues to give recognition to her brother by sharing the many stories that her mother would tell the family. Paulk fought for her brother to receive an honorary diploma that was previously denied to him by the segregation and discrimination Houma Indians experienced by the education system in Terrebonne Parish.
“We grew up in Dulac,” she explained. “He was born around the Bayou La Butte or Bayou La Sid where there is no longer land.”
Paulk was the younger sibling and vaguely remembers her childhood, but described that her brother was always around and showed love to every person he met. Antoine Francis was barely 18 years of age when he was drafted into the war, eventually gaining his military occupational specialty as Rifleman 745.
“I can vaguely remember my mom worrying about him being away from us because in those days your children just didn’t leave you,” she explained. “But then the war came along, it was so different for everybody.”
“My mom didn’t know if he was dead or alive because there was no news for a long time right after he left.”
Paulk explained that her brother was transferred to many areas while he was in the United States until eventually going overseas. Her brother traveled to locations such as Normandy, Northern France, Ardenes, Rhineland, and Central Europe. During this time, there was a lot of talk about Adolf Hitler and the ongoing war in Germany. Her family would always listen to the radio during that time as it was their main source of information. She remembers her mom staying up late and listening to the news on the radio.
After some time, their mother soon started to receive short letters from Antoine Francis. Due to him receiving some education in mission schools, he was able to learn how to write. Paulk explained that the letters they would receive were in beautiful handwriting. However, many other young Native men didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to read or write. Some families were never able to receive updates from their loved ones.
During this time, a large number of Native communities were impacted by the war and many of the young men were drafted. Paulk stated that this was new for many of the Native people and different territories. Although they were sent to war, they were proud to serve their country. Once her brother came back from the war, he did two more tours of duty. Paulk explained that she had some cousins that didn’t make it. She remembers the community constantly hearing unsettling news about their loved ones passing away from somewhere so far away.
“They did the best they could because of how the world was,” she said. “It was so different for the bayou people because everybody was called for the war like our Indian people ,the Cajuns, everybody that lived in the area.”
Paulk noticed that some of the men who came back from the war developed some issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Around this time, she had never heard of the term PTSD. However, she would constantly hear people talking around the bayou.
“You knew they had some that came back with a problem, whether it be mentally,” she said. “It was understood from the families that this is what happens when you come back from the war.”
Paulk remembers that she first heard the term PTSD by the community shortly after the Vietnam War in the late 70s.
Paulk continued to fight for her brother Francis. One of her many missions was to get her brother an honorary diploma that he was unable to achieve at that time due to the discrimination from the school board in Terrebonne Parish. She explained that during that time the state was having a ceremony on the steps of the capitol to give diplomas to many of the young men who were unable to finish their education due to the war.
“My brother didn’t even get to finish grade school because this parish and this state refused to give us any kind of schooling, which is why the missionaries came here,” she explained. “I said all of these Indian people are going to be left out, they had to leave their families, they had to leave just as much, they won’t earn a diploma because the state never offered it to them.”
Paulk knew someone in the Veterans Administration office and faxed them. She stated in the letter that her brother would have received this diploma if the parish would have provided him an education. Soon after it was sent, she received a fax telling her to start collecting all of the information for her brother and that they would make it right. She knew another guy in the tribe living in Point-Aux-Chenes that had the same case and she quickly notified his family, which led to him being able to receive an honorary diploma.
“Different leaders of the state were there at the ceremony and different officers of the service,” she explained. “Sometime later, they decided to go to the different areas in the state to make sure everybody was covered, including Houma.”
Paulk still explains that many other Houma Indians still to this day were not able to receive their honorary diplomas after being in the service. She hopes that some of them did receive something in the mail for their time.
Paulk explains that she is working directly with Chief August Cocoa Creppel, his wife Layla Creppel, and other tribal citizens to put together a committee to recognize and support veterans of the tribe. She hopes that this is a step forward in sharing the many more stories of the bravery from the Native soldiers.
“I do know that our Native American veterans, especially our Houma people, are so proud to serve this country,” she said. “This country never gave them a whole lot, but they’re giving their lives for this country.”