Air Force, Koren War
Koren War veteran C.J. Christ doesn’t like to consider himself a hero.
To the Houma community, though, the former Air Force pilot has played a vital role in preserving the history of World War II as it relates to South Louisiana.
Now serving as its President Emeritus, C.J. was a founder of the Regional Military Museum on Barrow St.—one of many manifestations of his deep love of war history.
“When you study WWII in Houma and in Terrebonne Parish…There was nothing written about it that I could find any place, so when I started finding things about WWII in the Gulf of Mexico, and I started doing more and more research, then the idea was that, when we gather all this information, we need a place to put it permanently,” C.J. says.
Several decades ago, C.J., began gathering what now totals 174,000 pages of authentic WWII documents from the National Archives in Washington D.C., including logs from German u-boats.
With such a high volume of records, C.J. knew an expansive location was needed to store such important documents. With the help of other community members, buildings were secured, and the museum would become a reality.
The museum has become a staple of the Houma community and has continued to grow through the addition of various expansions over the years.
C.J.’s preservation of history hasn’t stopped with the Regional Military Museum, though, and his passion for war history began long before the museum opened its doors.
Born in the small farming town of Mowata, La., where the only buildings in sight were a church and a grocery store, C.J. developed a love of airplanes from an early age. As a child, he says that and his brother would build airplane models together.
When C.J. was 14, Mowata became part of the United State’s WWII civilian Observer Corps, so the owner of the town’s grocery store built a 15-foot watch stand to watch for aircraft. The only avid airplane lover in the town, 14-year-old C.J. was chosen to lead the town’s corps, select its members and use the town’s only phone to report aircraft sightings.
“There was an armband that you wore if you were a member of that organization, and of course, being in charge of that organization, I would brag all the way to school and back,” C.J. says. “When I got on that telephone and said ‘war emergency alert,’ everybody had to get off the phone. Talk about a big wheel.”
C.J. went on to participate in two years of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) during WWII in high school before continuing with his ROTC involvement in college at what was formerly Lake Charles Junior College. When he was in medical school at LSU, he encountered Air Force recruiters and decided to enlist to learn how to fly a plane.
To his surprise, and the surprise of his superiors, the Korean War would begin a few months later.
“They told us in the auditorium, ‘We don’t even need half of you. In sixth months, half of you will be washed out of the program’…and then a war started, and then they had to have us all,” C.J. laughs.
It’s been a lifetime since C.J.’s service in the Air Force, but his passion for war history has lived on through years of researching, studying and reading about wars. That passion even translated into authorship of two books: one detailing the history of the Gulf of Mexico in WWII through newspaper articles written by C.J., and an upcoming one detailing 1,582 summaries of sinkings of boats in the Gulf of Mexico.
Above all, C.J. loves his work with the Regional Military Museum and welcomes the opportunity to keep history alive for future generations.
“I think it’s something that needs to be done, something the community needed…It’s a niche of its own,” C.J. says. “I enjoy it.” POV