A Fourth of July weekend memoir
“No rest for the working man,” Elton “Pap” LeBeau Sr. said.
LeBeau was only 20 years old when he joined the Navy. It was August, 1951. During his four years in the Korean War, he would be one of the many seamen serving on the now legendary destroyer known as the USS KIDD (DD-661).
Born on May 11, 1933 Elton would live in his native St. Amant where he, his three older brothers and two older sisters farmed strawberries and beans with their mother and father. But even at a young age, he always had dreams of sailing in the Navy. On August 29, 1951 young Elton Sr. joined the United States Navy and served four years during the Korean War.
After surviving three months of boot camp in San Diego, California he traveled to San Francisco where he would receive a transport trip on the USS Breckenridge. From there he would sail to Sasebo, Japan and board the USS Leo, an oiler ship.
LeBeau and 13 of his friends would get their first assignment refueling other ships. A week would pass as the USS Leo returned to the U.S., and Elton received the rank of boatswain. That meant supervising the deck force and taking good care of maintenances. He and many others made sure all the USS Rainier’s Navy operations ran smoothly.
An ammunitions ship, the USS Rainier was tasked with delivering weapons, bombs and gunpowder to aircraft carriers. Getting up at 3 a.m. to work on the deck as ships ran would have been tiresome work for many. But for LeBeau, dealing with explosives that could level a destroyer kept him at his best. Daily, he would supply carriers with the ammo they needed to drop bombs on North Korea and reload arms.
He served on this ship for thirty days until he was re-assigned to a LCMs (Landing Craft) two-engine Mobile Boat. From here he would sail thousands of captains and Navy men around Sasebo while they were on leave from their many ships. He loved to sail the Mobile Boat and operated it with precision. He would spend nearly two years sailing the Mobile Boat before taking a thirty-day leave.
While back in Ascension Parish, he would get re-assigned back to Long Beach, California. He would board the now legendary Fletcher-class Destroyer that was named the USS KIDD. The 661 was a beautiful, four-star ship that survived a Kamikaze (or suicide crash) during WWII that killed 35 crew members. It would earn four more stars during the Korean War.
For two years, LeBeau would make his home on the KIDD. He also became the 3rd Boatswain Mate and would see many battles over the icy-top mountains of North Korea. But one day an unidentified plane flew right over the KIDD. A daily routine almost ended in tragedy as history nearly repeated itself. LeBeau and the rest of the crew were not hit by the plane, and this was not the only time LeBeau brushed with death.
Another incident saw the KIDD nearly tip over from harsh waves. LeBeau was at the back when he slipped and nearly flew into the ocean. At the last second, he grabbed two steel poles as the wave shifted allowing him to climb the poles back the safety.
Afterwards, he would eventually settle down and go back to Ascension Parish in August 1955. On one faithful day, LeBeau received word that the USS KIDD docked in Baton Rouge for the last time and became a Naval War Memorial. His service became part of an iconic legacy of one of Louisiana’s most treasured memories.
Elton LeBeau is now 84 years old, living in his native St. Amant. He has been married for over 60 years, recently celebrating his 60th anniversary on May 25. He has five children, seventeen grandchildren, and 28 great-grandchildren.
On June 1, 1979 an article was published by David H. Young called "For Elton (Pap) LeBeau, the Destroyer USS KIDD May Become A Very Special Naval Memorial.”