by Ron Cook
“Empty your cup. Whatever you have, may not fully meet your need. But if you give it to someone who doesn’t have anything, it may be more than enough to totally meet theirs. Empty your cup.” (Kip Coltrin)
These are the words of someone who belongs to a group of ad hoc volunteers known as The Cajun Navy. Throughout most of the United States, flooding is something that is hoped to be avoided, but it’s not something most people think about very often. In Louisiana, and the coastal states, flooding, hurricanes and tornadoes are constant potential dangers. In truly typical Louisiana fashion a group of brave men and women have come together, over the last documented 15 years, to form a rescue force that is nothing short of wonderful, inspiring and impressive.
When I was given the idea to write this piece, I started to investigate the earliest references to the term, “Cajun Navy.” One of the earliest footnotes I found indicated an honorary commodore rank in the Cajun Navy was bestowed to the then outgoing Governor, Jimmie Davis, in 1964. Oh, my goodness, this lead me on a whole sidetrack of exploration into the infamous career of the cowboy singing, politicking, non-consecutive two-term Governor of Louisiana and his “You Are My Sunshine” state song! Getting back on track…
The first official surfacing of this group of men and women seems to be sometime during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Apparently, Louisiana state senator, Nick Gautreaux, put out a plea on local television and radio for, “Anybody who wants to go help the people of New Orleans, please come to the Acadiana Mall.” Between 350 and 400 boats and people showed up. That’s where it all started. I have tried to make contact with some of the official leaders, yet, low and behold, they are all off on another series of hurricane rescues in Texas! It seems as though there are new hurricanes developing in the Gulf as I am writing this article!! These brave men and women set out at a moment’s notice into the face of danger!
The most common forms of “rescue” boats that are used are the flat bottomed fishing boats used in the shallow waters in Louisiana. They’re called pirogues, bass boats and, of course, airboats. Governor Davis was awarded a symbolic four star pirogue by the Greater Lafourche Port Commission that is still in use for parades. These types of boats can be launched in shallow flood waters where underlying obstructions will not catch on a flat keeled boats. Many of the folks who are involved in these impromptu rescue operations are former military, policemen, firefighters, and other retired or even active public servants. Many more are just good-hearted Louisiana Cajuns and residents.
These men and women have recognized that sometimes the wheels of government-rescue operations turn slowly and, often, inefficiently. Katrina was a tipping point for these folks. Folks now meet on Facebook, in Walmart parking lots, and anywhere they can to set up command posts where volunteers can be more efficiently sent out to places of need. The Cajun Navy has responded to the aftermaths of not only Hurricane Katrina, but also Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, the Hidalgo County flood, Hurricane Florence, Tropical Storm Gordon, Hurricane Michael and many more.
Todd Terrell is the current founder and President of the United Cajun Navy. Since 2005 many organizations have arisen including:
● The Louisiana Cajun Navy
● The Cajun Navy Relief and Rescue
● The Cajun Navy Acadiana
● America’s Cajun Navy 2016
● United Cajun Navy
● Cajun Navy 2016
● Cajun Relief Foundation
● Crowdsource Rescue Cajun Coast
● Cajun Army or Cajun Special Forces
The Cajun Navy Relief organization has a very helpful website at:
www.cajunnavyrelief.com. A great deal of information is available.
Todd Terrell’s organization, The United Cajun Navy can be found at http://www.unitedcajunnavy.com out of Baton Rouge. This is also a great site that has been developed for volunteers, donations, as well as relief needs.
From whence does human kindness flow,
Swam out from selfish centered trope?
To rush into a danger sure,
That only threatens one who stirs.
To risk your life to save unknown,
To sacrifice your treasured home.
In Luzi men and women do,
While Cajun Navy they do crew!
There is a higher call in life,
When lives are lost in Nature’s Strife.
But one must go beyond one’self,
To help a brother, sister, dog.
It’s not a call that’s answered wide,
So be now grateful for those who ride…