U.S. Navy veteran Lawrence Joseph “LJ” Menard recently recalled decommissioning ships and trading sugar for beer during an interview at the state Department of Veterans Affairs' Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home in Jennings.
Born in Orange, Texas on Sept. 28, 1927, he was the only child of Clifford “CJ” and Rena Menard. He knew early on that he wanted to be of service to others. His father worked in the oil field while his mother stayed home to care for him. His parents raised him “right,” and he wanted to do his part, he said.
On July 12, 1945, at the age of seventeen, a young Menard volunteered to enter into the Navy’s active service. He went to California where he would spend the next nine weeks in basic training at Naval Training Center San Diego.
Afterwards, Menard received technical expertise and training for munitions, explosives safety, and hazardous materials. He spent his time in the military “delivering the bad ammo out to the sea.”
“They just sunk it all,” he said of the days he spent on that mission. He would go on to help decommission ships. “That was something else.
“Every once in a while, we’d get lucky and come across some sugar. Sugar was precious back then. Do you know what we’d do with it? We would bring it to the local bar and they’d give us free beers for it.”
U.S. Navy Seaman Second Class Lawrence Joseph Menard was honorably discharged from the port demobilization activity Mare Island Shipyard in Vallejo, California on July 31, 1946.
“My parents thought I would go to college, but I met a little lady from Jennings named Gloria and I married her instead,” he said of life after service.
The Menard’s had one daughter together who was tragically killed in an accident. They remained married for over fifty years.
“I worked in the oil field for a while,” he said. “Then I worked for Gulf State Utilities as a meter reader and eventually a collections supervisor.”
When Gloria died, Menard said he adopted a “Wine Women, and Song” lifestyle referencing the famous Loretta Lynn song of that time.
Menard would eventually meet his second wife, Francis, in Florida. The two have been married for 28 years and counting.
“She likes babysitting and is a very religious person,” he said of Francis.
Menard has been living at the veterans' home in Jennings for a while now. “I like it,” he said.
However, he is quick to admit that he shoots straight with you when you ask him his opinion. “I don’t love it here though. I’d rather be home.”
As far as military service in concerned, the former Seaman said, “Do it.”
“Where else can you stay 20 years, come out with a nice retirement, and still work to get another retirement?”