Visiting with Lou and his wonderful daughter Bonnie was a sincere pleasure and at 97years young Lou’s great sense of humor has not diminished.
Nazi’s Occupy Norway
Louis J. Brousseau, Jr. was born September 14, 1919 in Proctor, Minnesota but he lived in nearby Amboy until the 6th grade when his family moved north to Bovey where he graduated from Greenway High School in 1937. Lou then attended Itasca Community College earning an AA degree in pursuit of an engineering degree. Lou also obtained his pilot license. Lou, an avid snow skier qualified for Oslo, Sweden’s 1940 Winter Olympics but it was cancelled once the Nazi’s occupied Norway that year.
During 1939, Lou visited California via a skiing scholarship and later after finishing college he returned to stay with Aunt Laura in Glendale. While there, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor sending shock waves across America. Lou’s Dad, realizing his son was a pilot, hence a prime candidate for the Army Air Corps, phoned Lou and said, “Don’t you be in a hurry to enlist”. Lou chuckled in response, “But Dad, I’ve already enlisted!”
B-24 Liberator Training
Soon, Lou was at Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas for pre-flight training, then to Spartan School of Aeronautics at Tulsa, Oklahoma for pilot training. Next, Lou was sent to Chanute Field, Illinois for electronics and antenna courses. Then, it was more training in Morse code, camouflage, airplane structure, and aircraft identification at Waco, Texas. Next, Lou was assigned to Lemoore Field, California where 10 man crews were assigned to fly B-24 Heavy Bombers and then it was to Tonopah
Air Base, Nevada. It was here that Lou and his crewmen had overseas training to learn everything possible about flying and working B-24 Liberators. They ran bombing practices, honed their navigation skills and gunners practice. Lou became a radioman responsible for communications and operating a new device called radar.
South Pacific Liberation
In March 1943, Lou and his crew departed Tonopah by train to San Francisco, California, then on to Hickham Field, Oahu, Hawaii via troop ship where they were assigned to the 5th Bombardment Group, 72nd Squadron – 13th Army Air Corp. Soon they were in New Guinea taking jungle training and learning how to survive should Japanese gunners shoot them down. It wasn’t long before they were conducting bombing missions all over the South Pacific islands held by Japanese forces. Lou’s B-24 Heavy Bomber was well suited for bombing runs over Fiji, Rabaul, Guadalcanal, Los Negros, Luzon, Samar, Borneo, Tarakan, Balikpapan, and Formosa. They logged in 32 combat missions along with a dozen or more search and rescue missions for downed flight crews.
Beware of Head Hunters
On a mission over Borneo, one of Lou’s fellow B-24’s was hit resulting in a crash landing and they encountered indigenous head hunters where they saw Japanese heads mounted on poles. Thankfully, Australian troops arrived by boat just in time to save the day. On a mission over Borneo, Lou’s plane lost two engines and they emergency landed at Brunei Bay’s runway that only days before had been captured by the Aussies. Not only were those bombing missions dangerous, it was a harsh and cramped environment aboard those non pressurized B-24’s, sarcastically nicknamed “Flying Boxcars”. They flew at high altitudes and with no insulation it was often freezing cold and it was deafening loud. Oxygen tanks were required and they communicated with each other using throat mikes. Lou said, “If the conditions didn’t take you out, you still had the Japanese and head hunters to worry about”. Those brave warriors who survived their intense environment, enemy fighter planes and anti-aircraft flak were products of the Great Depression. They grew up living in hardship and they were adaptable as their very lives were at stake, let alone freedom for all Americans. Victory was not an option for our Greatest Generation.
While at Samar Island in the Philippines, Lou received news that the Japanese had surrendered and everyone rejoiced realizing they would soon head home. After island hopping across the South Pacific they landed at Hickham Field and then to Sacramento and a train ride to Denver, Colorado. Lou was honorably discharged as an E-7 Technical Sergeant November 5, 1946. Lou’s awards include The National Defense Medal, American Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Air Medal for Meritorious Service, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
1941 Packard Convertible
Soon, Lou was home in Bovey, Minnesota resuming a normal life. Well, maybe not so normal to most people; Lou landed a job at Miller Funeral Home which began a life long career in the mortuary business. Lou attended San Francisco’s College of Mortuary Science earning a Bachelors of Science Degree in 1948 and he moved to the San Fernando Valley landing an apprenticeship with Nobel Chapel Mortuary. Ultimately, Lou purchased his own funeral home in Tujunga, California which he operated for 30 years. Along the way, he met his future wife, Estelle Meastas at a Gardena dance club. She saw Lou as the life of the party, a joker and a big spender plus he drove a fancy 1941 Packard convertible. She thought he was a big show off, but while drinking and dancing, Lou offered to escort her for early mass the next morning. Figuring that was a long shot, she agreed. When Lou arrived the next morning on time properly attired, she knew he was it. A year later, Lou and Estelle were married at St. Kevin’s Church in Los Angeles May 28, 1949. They were married 67 years until Estelle’s passing on February 13, 2015. Lou and Estelle had four daughters and one son, a “blue baby” who passed away at 1 year old. During Lou’s career he dedicated free services to all families who lost their babies. Lou said, “It’s been a great life”. I say, “Lou’s longevity results from good karma”.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.