As the Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary, we are also taking time to remember some of our volunteers who play a vital role in many areas. The Museum has been fortunate over the last 20 years to have WWII veterans serve as volunteers. One of those was Jimmy Dubuisson, who volunteered with the “Higgins Boat” crew for nearly 20 years. In the late 1990s, a group of New Orleans history and boat enthusiasts got together with a common goal: to build a replica of the Higgins LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) to keep the memory of Higgins alive and honor his important contributions to the War. Jimmy was one of that group.
Born and raised in New Orleans, he joined the US Navy at 17 and served aboard a Landing Ship Dock and a landing craft repair ship. In the 1950s, he and a friend built a small pleasure boat in Jimmy’s backyard, and Halter Marine was born. It was his experience in the shipbuilding industry that made Jimmy a natural fit, and an important wealth of knowledge on all three of the Museum’s boat restorations.
One of the more entertaining aspects of being part of the PT-305 restoration crew was observing the debates between Jimmy, with his “get it done” workboat shipyard viewpoint, and the “it’s a beautiful wooden boat” standpoint of some of the crew who were wooden boat builders and cabinet and furniture makers. They looked at things with a little more finesse and precision, Jimmy just focused on how to get things done. Both mindsets were important to the work we were doing, and it was always entertaining to hear them fussing at one another, knowing there were no hard feelings and they’d all be laughing in just a few minutes. Jimmy once described the 305 crew “as a great group of people. I mean, there’s never a cross word from anybody. Everybody’s always laughing.” Jimmy was the embodiment of that attitude and was always happy to share his knowledge and teach the rest of us.
Jimmy was there every Saturday through all three projects, a fixture in the restoration crew until his death in 2016. His years of experience and insight were beyond value to the Higgins boats projects, and a major factor in the success of all three boats. His stories of life in New Orleans and in the navy were always listened to intently over lunch or a donut break. He once told us a story of how once on an island in the Pacific they were fed beef for several weeks, but it wasn’t until a new shipment of cattle arrived that he began to question just what he’d been eating for weeks. He would also talk of surviving storms at sea, listening to vehicles in the ship’s hold break free and bang around. Jimmy got into the war late, but he was immensely proud of his service, his only regret being he hadn’t stayed in long enough to reach the rate of Chief Petty Officer. Just before he passed, Jimmy was made an honorary Chief and member of the VFA-204 Chief Petty Officer’s Mess.
To have known Jimmy and worked with him was an honor for all of us. His dedication to the Museum and the Higgins Boats projects is an outstanding example of our many wonderful volunteers, and the WWII generation.