Lavenia Hickman Breaux was born in Slidell, Louisiana in 1917. Breaux did not realize she was living through a Depression. Her parents were poor but she was happy. Her father was a laborer and her mother was a laundress. Breaux is grateful for her upbringing because it allows her to appreciate people. She was a young girl when she came to New Orleans. She was brought to Canal Street on a wagon. The horse stopped at the intersection of Krauss Department Store and Canal Street. There were other horses around pulling people in wagons. Canal Street was like a big field to Breaux. There were not many stores on Canal Street. People stopped to go into Krause's off of the train. Most of Breaux's possessions were on a train. They lived uptown. Horse and wagon was the only transportation they had. People were friendly. Breaux enjoyed other people and their company. She also went to church and is happy that she was raised appreciating religion. New Orleans was a safe and nice place compared to today. There were speakeasies but Breaux was forbidden to go by her brother. Breaux believes it would be beneficial to teach children to do things for others. The real beauty of her upbringing was that she was able to appreciate good things in her life. Breaux believes certain people should be encouraged to join the military. People should also believe in and follow the law. Breaux used to follow the Second Lines in New Orleans when someone died [Annotator's Note: Second Lines are brass band parades held in New Orleans to celebrate events like weddings and funerals]. She got a good whipping one time because she followed a Second Line too far. Breaux's big sister had a job washing dishes for a family after school. Breaux used to go with her and help her out and wait for her. She learned how to appreciate a few dollars. Her brother used to shine shoes on Tulane's campus.
Lavenia Breaux wanted to go in the service after Pearl Harbor. She always had a dream of traveling and realized the military would be a good option. Breaux went down to the customs house in New Orleans to be inducted. She needed a reference to enlist. Someone had to vouch for her. Breaux got references from her pastor and one of her teachers. When Breaux enlisted she was in the first group of black women to leave the state of Louisiana for military service. They boarded a train. There were only 36 of them. Most of the soldiers were mad that black women were going to be on the train. The officers would interject and tell the men to be accepting. Many people had the idea that the women were being misused. Men felt that they were being pushed to combat faster because the women were taking their jobs. A lot of the men appreciated the women also. Breaux's First Sergeant got a few girls together and they went AWOL [Annotator's Note: absent without leave] to attend a Louis Armstrong Dance in Louisville, Kentucky. Louis Armstrong actually introduced Breaux and told her to come on stage. There were a lot of things they were exposed to. Breaux's first assignment was at Fort Knox [Annotator's Note: Fort Knox, Kentucky]. They were out one night in Louisville and people were saluting them and welcoming them. Breaux's unit set up companies and housing at various military bases. Since Breaux was a woman she had to be careful about men interacting with her. She was told not to go out at night and not open the door after dark for anyone. Young people who are soulful and perhaps do not want to go to school should consider going into the military for disciplinary purposes. It was good for Breaux because the Army allowed her to travel.
Lavenia Breaux hopes and prays that whatever she has said or has done will rub off on someone young in a positive way. Military service for Breaux was something very special and invaluable. Breaux was trained for one thing and did something else. She was trained to be a record keeper. She never did that. She was also trained as a cook but she never did that. Breaux could catch onto orders and training fast. She was good at following orders. She can appreciate her ability to follow orders today. Breaux had eight girls in her group. She had to handle the new female recruits because they got discouraged very quickly. Some of them did not have privileges that they thought they would get. It was hard for some of the girls to maintain their relationships with their boyfriends and husbands. When Breaux boarded the train in New Orleans she had to sleep so she was rested. When she woke up she was in Des Moines, Iowa and it was 15 degrees. The officer that was escorting them had to wait for a soldier to come get them. Sometimes it was hard for them to get food. The food issue was insulting to the ladies because it was hard for them to eat sometimes. Breaux was used to not dealing with whites so it never bothered her. The women who came from integrated cities were more likely to complain because they had never had it bad. The weather in Des Moines was incredibly cold. When she left New Orleans it was 74 degrees. Breaux had a friend that joined the Army and she was in the process of going overseas. There was a submarine out in the Gulf of Mexico. The submarine knocked the ship off and it ended up killing Breaux's friend. She was disgusted when she found out about her friend. It made her want to leave the service.
Lavenia Breaux had to find out through the grapevine that her friend had been killed. Sensitive information like that tended to get leaked rather than told to someone. Breaux chose the Army because she was not able to get into other services at the time. She was told that the best possible place for her was the Army. This was the beginning of acceptance into the Army for women. Not many women wanted to go in but the idea slowly gained traction. The Navy did not take black women. Breaux had to get a reference to get in and if certain women were not able to produce a solid reference then they could not get in. Breaux did notice that black men were able to serve in the Navy. One time, Breaux ran into three black aviators from the Air Force. The men were highly complementary of the women. They were very handsome men. They were at a camp in Illinois. Breaux was very proud to see the black aviators. The first barracks that Breaux was in for basic training contained about 20 to 30 black women. The other women were white. They realized they had to share with the black women so the white women segregated half of the room with a bed sheet. The black women got up and were upset about it and stood up to take down the sheets. They did not want to have the separation. One of the white women was going to be her First Sergeant. She tracked down the company commander to complain about the black girls. The First Sergeant sided with the black women and said that there was to be no segregation in the barracks. To Breaux that was her first experience with integration. The next morning they went to breakfast and came back and all of the women were gone. The officer returned the next morning and was upset that they catered to the white women and their requests. He believed that they should have stayed in the barracks with the white women. That was the first time Breaux received any type of respect in the Army. After that she believed in what she was doing.
There was a lot of segregation at the beginning but Lavenia Breaux had the impression that it eased up. Breaux believes that black women helped in integrating the military. Breaux will never forget that experience in Des Moines, Iowa [Annotator's Note: See Lavenia Breaux clip titled Losing a Friend and Race Relations on Base]. Breaux wishes she could contact some of the women that she served with because they were all excellent women. Breaux used the time to benefit the military. Everything that she did was geared towards the military. Some of the women were able to bring sewing machines so people could fix their uniforms. Breaux enjoyed the helping spirit. A lot of women came in and they needed the discipline of the military because they had nothing. The women enjoyed getting nice clothes and a uniform. The Army did give her a lot of clothes. Breaux's family was incredibly proud of her. It made Breaux happy knowing that her family was happy. The Army allowed her to travel. Breaux traveled with her company. Sometimes the officers had to go out on business and they would take some of the women with them. The officers had a lot to do with their freedom. Through the officers they were able to travel. It was a nice way to travel. A lot of things have evaporated out of Breaux's mind. Breaux lived in New York City after she got out of the Army and does not remember the end of the war. She grew up by a bayou when she was a kid. Breaux was almost bitten by an alligator when she was a young kid. She was almost bitten by a snake one time as well.
World War 2 changed Lavenia Breaux. Before the war Breaux had the chance to talk to a woman in her neighborhood who, in her lifetime, had spoken with Abraham Lincoln. Breaux remembers her very well. She was called Mother Shepherd. Breaux had been a member of her church for 90 years. She knows that a lot of ladies she served with truly love the United States. If they were alive today they would tell people to treat each other with respect. Breaux believes that it is important that younger generations learn about World War 2. Breaux did not have a lot of things growing up that the newer generations take for granted. She believes that people should be thankful of God. Breaux notes that people should feel blessed that they live in a land where the laws are fair and people are accountable. Breaux believes that it is a good place to live. She wishes that people were not offended by her love of God. Breaux believes that museums are very important. She believes that there should be as much information in a museum as possible so that people can learn as much as possible. The Museum has information that people should want to come see and learn and study from. The museum is a powerful place that informs people. Breaux has been blessed and she feels that today schools should teach a broad range of topics. There are a lot of things that people can do to enhance their children's lives. Breaux believes that lawmakers could do a little more to get things done.
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