Shushan Airport is now known as Lakefront Airport.
Art Deco administration building at Shushan Airport
2010 photo of the restored art deco facade of the Lakefront Airport administration building. Infrogmation photo.
Architectural drawing of the Administration building of Shushan Airport. The state built the airport on the eastern side of the Industrial Canal. Then-governor Huey P. Long authorized the construction of the airport in 1929. The airport opened in 1934. Airport visitors pull up to this splendid example of art deco style. The Army Air Corps hardened the administration building at the outset of World War II. While the original art deco design remained, the AAC covered it with a “bomb proof” exterior. The building underwent extensive renovations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Its original facade was restored, as well as the art deco fixtures, floors, etc., in the interior.
Shushan to Lakefront
architectural rendering of Shushan Airport administration building.
The state originally named the airport after Huey Long ally Abraham Shushan. Long rewarded Shushan’s loyalty (and financial contributions) with a position on the Orleans Parish Levee Board. Shushan became president of that board. That’s why the airport took his name. Shushan got caught up in several political scandals in the 1930s. Abe became a liability to his patron. The Long faction cut him loose and re-named the airport in 1939. It became New Orleans Airport, with the three-letter designation, NEW. When Moisant Field in Kenner evolved into the city’s primary airport, New Orleans Airport became Lakefront Airport. It still retains NEW as its code, with now-named Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport as MSY.
This rendering is part of the Franck Studios collection at THNOC. The architectural firm that created it is uncredited.
As tensions increased in Europe in the late 1930s, the United States Army Air Corps created antisubmarine aircraft squadrons along the Gulf of Mexico. One of these bomber squadrons operated from Lakefront Airport. While the planes parked at the airport, there wasn’t enough space to house the squadron’s personnel and offices. The Army acquired land on the west side of the Industrial Canal. They built the support facilities for the squadron there. Pilots and maintenance crew worked back and forth across the canal. The western base later became part of Camp Leroy Johnson, an army supply depot.
A 1943 Willys MB jeep at the National World War II Museum has a 75mm recoilless rifle.
1943 Willys MB with 75mm recoilless rifle. Edward Branley photo.
The Freedom Pavillion
On our recent trip to the National World War II Museum, we walked through The United States Freedom Pavillion. My firstborn, LT Branley, USN (Ret), wanted to see the various airplanes hanging above us. As we walked in, something else caught my eye, a jeep. Jeeps are pretty common, but this particular one caught my eye. It has a rocket launcher mounted in the back seat. The configuration reminded me of the old television show, “The Rat Patrol.” In the show, set during the North Africa campaign, the jeeps the “patrol” used had machine guns mounted in the back seats. I always thought this was a Hollywood thing. That’s why my eyes turned when I saw this rocket mounted on a jeep.
1943 Willys MB Jeep
1943 Willys MB with 75mm recoilless rifle. Edward Branley photo.
While “The Rat Patrol” was fiction (it was based on a British SAS unit in North Africa), the Willys MB is authentic. Here’s the Museum’s description of the jeep:
Finally, a 1943 Willys MB is on exhibit in The United States Freedom Pavilion, The Boeing Center. This jeep, like other vehicles in the pavilion, runs; and it is moved on a regular basis to accommodate Museum events. This jeep is marked to represent the 155th Airborne Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion with the 17th Airborne Division during Operation Varsity. This unit received two 75mm recoilless rifles for use in that operation. This type of weapon was just being deployed at the end of the war and proved very useful in anti-tank operations. In addition to the recoilless rifle, the jeep features a wire cutter commonly found in the European theater and a limited collection of other accessories. The jeep has appropriate unit markings. The W number is painted in white, as is typically observed after a vehicle has spent time with a unit.
(from the article, “Shop Talk: Three Jeeps” on the museum’s website)
So, the MB jeep sports a 75mm recoilless rifle. In addition to the memories of the television show, the tube-like gun on the back reminded me of the Cold War board wargames we played in the 1980s. A common weapons system of that time was the BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile. It was interesting to see the evolution of vehicular weapons systems.
1942 Ford GPW in the North Africa Exhibit. Thomas Czekanski photo, Courtesy of The National WWII Museum.
In the North Africa exhibit of the Road to Berlin Gallery, another jeep caught my eye. The display contains a 1942 Ford GPW painted and weathered to look like it had been at Kasserine Pass. Back when I taught American History at Redeemer High School in Gentilly, I used to show the movie, “The Big Red One.” That movie features the battle at the pass. What impressed me about this jeep was the weathering. This jeep’s weathering includes mud spatters as if it traveled a lot of desert miles. No machine gun mounted in the back, just a hard-working vehicle. The National WWII Museum are masters in creating the “immersive experience.”
A National WWII Museum visit is a NOLA must!
Diorama featuring a C-4 Waco glider at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Edward Branley photo.
National WWII Museum Visit
My Firstborn, who spent ten years as a submariner, always wants to go to make a National WWII Museum visit when he comes home (he lives in the DMV, working for the Strategic Capabilities Office these days). We gladly oblige him, as the museum is a fun way to spend the day. He walks like he’s still on a boat and needs coffee badly, so we let him go ahead. When it’s three or four of us, it’s everyone for themselves, and we text to get back together. Being a naval officer, he usually spends most of his time in the Road To Tokyo exhibit. Being an NJROTC cadet who was often chewed out by Master Chief Brennan at Brother Martin High School, I share his interest in the Navy exhibits.
So, this trip, I was surprised when my O-3 said, let’s start with the original D-Day exhibits in the Louisiana Pavillion. The museum evolved from Ambrose’s original D-Day focus to all of the war. In that first summer of 2000, though, Overlord dominated. There’s one diorama in particular that I like to stop at for a while. The scene features a CG-4 Waco glider. The glider crashed into a stone wall in the woods behind and to the west of the Normandy beaches. The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions dropped into that area. They advanced, securing bridges and causeways connecting the beaches to the hedgerow country. While this particular Waco endured a hard landing (one wing is shown broken off), the jeep inside remains intact. Glider Infantry pushed the vehicle out, then drove off to connect with the rest of their unit.
It’s the stillness of the scene that gets me every time. It’s quiet, maybe this was one of the first gliders to land. The drops were a mess in those early hours of 6-June-1944. Someone’s managed to open the cargo hold. Hopefully the pilots survived. Crickets remind you that this is forest country. The display features no strong special effects, just the night sounds. The All-American and Screaming Eagles started their European campaign there.
St. Aloysius Band in 1946 was led by Prof Taverna.
St. Aloysius Band
Photo of the St. Aloysius High School Band, 1946. The band wears a classic corps-style uniform, with grey tunics, white trousers, and Sam Browne belts. The belt design was for military officers and NCOs who carried pistols. The shoulder strap supported the weight of the pistol on the belt. Fortunately, the BOSH didn’t issue pistols to the band, but the look was nonetheless sharpe. The band director, to the left is Joseph “Prof” Taverna. The students in white in the center were the color guard. The two young men on the right held the banner for parades. The drum majors wear bearskins on the left.
One of the distinctions about this photo from earlier years is the drumhead on the bass drum. After the war, high schools transitioned from calling themselves “colleges.” As young people came home from World War II, they took advantage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the “G. I. Bill.” One of the program’s benefits was financial assistance for college tuition. The high schools dropped “college” in their names to avoid confusion.
So, the band reflected this change. The drum head says, “St. Aloysius High School – New Orleans, La.” The large, vertical “SAC” is a shout-out to “St. Aloysius College.” The BOSH didn’t want to upset decades of alumni with a major name change. The band smoothed things over a bit.
Joseph “Prof” Taverna in 1931.
The school hired a new band director in 1931, Joseph Taverna. Here’s Brother Neal’s bio of “Prof,” in his History of Crusader Football:
One of the laymen was the new band director: Professor Joseph Taverna. He hailed from Turin, Italy, where he studied at the conservatory. His father was a celebrated composer who was once organist at St. Peter’s in Rome under Pope Leo XIII. Shortly after securing his degree in Turin, young Taverna came to America and settled in New Orleans. Here, “he organized the first boys’ band ever to play in the Crescent City.”
Later he became professor of music at Marion Military Institute in Alabama where he remained until the World War broke out. He led various army bands during the war. After the war, he returned to Marion. “His remarkable success drew the attention of the authorities of Alabama University. Professor Taverna accepted Alabama’s offer to head their music department. Here he trained both the Concert Band and the Military Band, taking the latter twice to the Rose Bowl.”
All that before 1931! While it may seem that taking up the baton at Aloysius was a step down for Prof, it’s not without precedent. Sometimes talented teachers need a step away from the rat race. Since he actually a professor, the honorific stuck. The reference to “laymen” BNG makes is an important one. In 1931, there were only four lay faculty at the school. All the other teachers were brothers. This expanded as the school entered the 1950s, particularly in the athletic department. While there were a lot of well-trained brothers teaching academic subjects, they didn’t coach. So, alumni joined the faculty in those roles. Band was a on-off situation. Prof took care of it for decades. By the late 1960s, Brother Virgil Harris, SC, ran the band program. Brother Virgil retired in 1973, and BMHS has had lay band directors ever since.
Prof Taverna directed a corps-style, Souza-style band. The uniforms matched the style. When Cor Jesu opened, that school opted for a less-military look for their band. Aloysius followed suit, after Prof retired in 1961. The band adopted the Navy uniform when St. Aloysius added an NJROTC unit in 1968.
Prof Taverna had a strong influence on the school’s music program, and the lives of many musicians. To honor his contribution to St. Aloysius and the BOSH, the BMHS band room in the Ridgely Arts Center is named for Prof.
NOTE: Thanks as always to Brother Neal Golden, SC, for his wonderful work documenting the history of the BOSH schools!
D-Day in Da Paper greeted New Orleans on the morning of the invasion.
D-Day in Da Paper
When New Orleans woke up on June 6, 1944, the Times-Picayune headline reported German accounts that the invasion was underway. Those reports were unconfirmed by Eisenhower’s HQ in London. Most of the reporting reflects the basic strategy. Analysts in the US spoke in general terms, mainly because they didn’t know exactly what was happening. The conventional wisdom in 1944 was that the Allies would take the shortest trip across the English Channel, Dover to Pas-de-Calais in France. The initial accounts report Allied bombing in and around Le Harve. The initial airborne drops in Normandy were considered staging for other operations:
“Anglo American parachute troops are bailing out on the northern tip of the Normandy peninsula to capture several airfields in order to make room for further landings of parachute troops.”
So, this reflected the German belief (specifically, Rommel’s belief) that the Normandy operations were a feint, or support for the full invasion at Calais. Not sure exactly what was happening, Rommel hesitated on moving into Normandy:
In an amphibious operation of such a gigantic size and complexity, it has been expected that the Germans would hold their main forces in reserve until it was determined where the major Allied strike would fall.
Ike’s gamble on Rommel’s plan worked.
Later in the day, when official news arrived across the Atlantic, Da Paper published an eight-page EXTRA with a lot more detail. While the morning edition reported the German’s announcements, updates came in as New Orleans had its morning coffee:
The invasion, which Eisenhower called “a great crusade” was announced at 7:32 a. m. Greenwich mean time. This was 2:32 a. m. Central war time in New Orleans. They labeled the first announcement Communique No. 1.
“Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied Naval Forces supported by strong air forces began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.”
The EXTRA also published Ike’s Order of the Day, addressing the forces under his command.
It’s important to remember that most of the iconic images from 5-6 June, 1944, didn’t appear in newspapers for quite some time. The T-P printed a photo of Ike at his desk, a fairly benign photo. We wouldn’t see him having a smoke with Airborne troops, etc, until much later.
Be sure to see the whole story at the National World War II Museum.
New Orleans Lakefront Airport (NEW) was the city’s go-to airfield during WWII.
Postcard of New Orleans Airport (NEW) from the 1930s. The image shows a commercial aircraft parked behind the main terminal building, boarding passengers. Image source unknown–if anyone’s done a deep dive on this one, please let me know. The aircraft appears to be a Douglas DC-3.
Delta Airlines 1945
Fast forward to 1945. One of the ads I found in the Times-Picayune for 26-December-1945 was for Delta Airlines. The ad caught my eye for two reasons. First, it was Delta to Dallas. Delta ceased nonstops from New Orleans to Dallas in 2003. The airline filed for bankruptcy then and gave up hub operations at DFW. Delta’s headquarters stands off the runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Delta to Dallas? Thing of the past.
The second thing–the flight time! Modern flights to Dallas, say MSY to Love Field (DAL), maybe an hour and ten minutes. Three hours? Well, yeah, it’s not a jet. But still!
The image in this ad looks like a DC-3 as well. The Douglas DC-4 had four engines, and the illustration looks like a two-engine aircraft. The military used the DC-3 as a sleeper aircraft, with 14 bunks. The Army Air Corps version of the plane, the C-47 transported paratroopers and glider troops to Normandy on D-Day.
Moisant or Lakefront?
A commenter to the ad post on Instagram asked, which airport? Another commenter replied this had to be Lakefront Airport, because MSY didn’t open to commercial aviation until May, 1946. So, New Orleanians hopping a plane to Dallas in 1945 drove out to the lakefront. NEW opened (as Shushan Airport) in 1934. A year later, airlines shifted to Kenner. Lakefront Airport morphed into a general aviation site, with Air National Guard units as well as private aircraft.
Lakefront Airport Today
The gorgeous Art Deco terminal underwent a major renovation in 2012-2013. It’s gorgeous, and merits an article of its own, which we’ll get to at some point.