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New Orleans Goes to War, 1941-1945 by Brian Altobello

By Reviewed by Remy Benoit

The history of the Crescent City is rich, complex, and multi-layered.

New Orleans lies below sea level.

That simple statement is indicative of the strength and determination of its inhabitants who have survived plague, fire, flooding, hurricanes, the War Between the States, Occupation, and a world at war, twice.

Her culture is varied; her history is part of the everyday life of a rich blend of people working together to stay above the water line, to enjoy and protect their way of life.

New Orleans Goes to War, 1941-1945 is a classic compilation of one of the oldest traditions of the human existence. That tradition is of the transmission of oral history.

Major Altobello (U.S. Army Reserve) provides an introduction that explains how New Orleans made it through conscription of its men, volunteering of its citizens, rationing of its food and commodities, and the protection of the gateway of the Mississippi to the heartland of the United States.

When the everyday things of life as you know them become fiercely limited, it is the mark of the strength and character of the people how they adjust to that, and then contribute more.

New Orleanians sponsored a “Christmas in July” in which the presents were war bonds.

The first black drill out came on Friday March 6, 1942 at 9 PM.

The four shipyards, including the now famous Higgins plant, converted to war material.

Mardi Gras was cancelled for the duration.

The list goes on, and Major Altobello provides insights into the heart of the city and its population.

Yet New Orleans Goes to War, 1941-1945 is more than a salute to the inhabitants of the city because of his skill as an interviewer and compiler of the oral history of those sent far from the warm scented streets, from pecan pie, and gumbo to fight in freezing lines in Europe and in the heat of the South Pacific.

Each interview is rich in remembrance and in honesty of what was felt and witnessed; in where it hurt; and in where it exemplified the best and worst of man in the worst of conditions.

The interviews are honest in what is still felt by those who served.

How did a weather man use a typhoon to the Air Force’s advantage? The answer is in this book.

How did displaced Europeans come to New Orleans in the aftermath of war to find a new and better way of life? The answer to that for that generation is in New Orleans Goes to War, 1941-1945 too. That tradition is still strong in Louisiana today, just as it was in the past for the Acadians.

As you read this book, you come to know the people in it. You come to see their honor; you come to see their fears, their outrage at the concentration camps. You also come to see their sheer determination to go on with life.

New Orleans Goes to War, 1941-1945 is one of the best anthologies of preserved oral history. It should be in every New Orleans classroom, in every school in the state and I can say as a history teacher, as someone who came to Louisiana by choice, in every secondary classroom in the nation.

We have so much to learn from those who came before. Major Altobello’s work is an excellent place to hear their voices.

Thank you for this work of such devotion to history. The music of these voices, like the music that is the life breath of the city, will play on to enrich our lives.

And to those whose stories are included here, to all of you who have served, or are serving, Thank you for your service.


Hello Mr. Benoit, I am trying to re-establish contact with Major Altobello. I had his email when he was at LSU, but can no longer reach him there. There are some updates to a project I've been working on, and I'd like to share it with him. Can you help me with his new email address or other contact info? This concerns his book Into the Shadows Furious. Thanks for your time, Tammi Hedrick Johnson

Posted by: Tammi Johnson, at 2012-08-19 18:48:34

This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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