Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Looking for Sergeant Jones, part 1

This past weekend, I drove to Cameron Parish, Louisiana in search of the final resting place of my great-great-great grandfather. Sergeant Richard Monson Jones was killed during the Civil War's Battle of Calcasieu Pass on May 6, 1864. He along with the 21 other Union and Confederate soldiers who died that day were buried on Monkey Island, a wedge of land in the waterway alongside what is now Cameron, Louisiana in the bottom left corner of the state.

Before heading out in search of Sgt. Jones, I mentally prepared for what I may or may not find. Cameron, Louisiana was virtually wiped off the map during 2005's Hurricane Rita. Estimates state that up to 90% of the city's buildings vanished with the storm surge. What had been rebuilt after 2005 was subject to the wrath of Hurricane Ike in 2008. I knew the parish was down and out. It was entirely possible that after a 2.5 hour drive, I would not find Sgt. Jones. In fact, I might not find anything at all at the end of the road. Yet, I still wanted to go and see for myself and make that ancestral connection to my great-great-great grandfather.

The directions to Cameron are simple: make your way to Interstate 10 and head in to Louisiana. Once you reach Lake Charles, turn south and follow the signs to Cameron. You will soon see that you are on the Creole Nature Trail. For over 30 miles, there's nothing but a quiet 2-lane road surrounded with wetlands.

Scars of Hurricanes Rita and Ike were everywhere. A few scattered new houses now on stilts and ready again to challenge nature were evident. Slabs of concrete with stairs to nowhere marked where others used to live. Mobile homes replaced after Rita were obliterated by Ike. Many residents are now living in campers next to their destroyed homes. It's absolutely heartbreaking.

I knew I was getting closer to Cameron and the coast as the evidence of destruction increased. I was looking for the parish courthouse, because it was supposed to have a war memorial with Sgt. Jones' name on it. Would it be there, or did it get swept miles inland like everything else?

The Cameron Parish courthouse was easy to find. It was the only permanent, functioning building still standing along the highway. I turned into the driveway, and this was my view:

I got out of the car. I was completely alone. The only sounds I heard were from the docked boats bouncing with the current and twisted metal scraps from a destroyed building banging in the wind.

The courthouse survived Rita and Ike. The monument survived Rita and Ike. Would I find Sgt. Jones on the list? I walked forward to get a closer look... continue to part 2

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