When you meet John Parent—everybody calls him Mr. John—you would never guess he is only two years short of reaching 90 years old. Spry, agile and energetic, Mr. John likes to volunteer. “It’s what keeps me going,” he says with pride.
A veteran of World War II, Mr. John is a committed member and active volunteer with the American Legion Post 139 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3253.
Most recently, American Legion Post 139 hosted a Legion breakfast, offering pancakes, omelets and steaks at very reasonable prices. Mr. John can and does take on whatever needs to be done in preparation, from setting up and decorating the tables to cooking and serving the food.
Post 139 also serves breakfast once a week to two busloads of veterans who come over to Bay Saint Louis from the VA hospital in Gulfport. “It’s good for those guys to get out of the hospital for a change of scene. We feed them, play bingo and put them back on the bus.”
Mr. John also helps out at the Friday night seafood dinners put on at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3253. Fried catfish or oysters or shrimp along with french fries or potato salad at the bargain price of six bucks a plate, usually is a sellout. What better way than this to help support the VFW and to avoid cooking yourself or eating fast food. Mr. John would be delighted to see you on Friday evening, starting at 5pm, at the Post facilities, on Third Street between Washington and Citizen Streets.
Mr. John is the kind of independent guy who knows how to take care of himself. He learned to cook by watching his mother, Mary Eva Stevens Parent, prepare jambalaya, gumbo and red beans and rice. Mr. John is not bashful about his cooking skills. “My mother taught me how to cook. I can cook anything.”
One of Mr. John’s favorite dishes is turkey wings. He boils them first, puts them in a baking pan, slathers the wings with Zatarain seasoning and lets them bake.
Mr. John added to his cooking repertoire during the three decades he worked as a Merchant Marine. He learned to cook Chinese and Filipino dishes by watching the Chinese and Filipino cooks that worked in the galley. He can cook a mean fish soup but does not, as the Chinese do, eat the fishes’ eyes.
During his 30-year career in the Merchant Marines, Mr. John often worked in the engine room. With his experience in keeping engines running, it’s a cinch he could repair just about anything mechanical that presented itself.
Of the myriad of world-wide ports that Mr. John visited as a Merchant Marine, his favorite destination was the Panama Canal. He loved to go back and forth by bus or boat between the Atlantic and Pacific sides. He loved shopping in Panama City where he would buy a large bunch of bananas that he then hung in the machine shop. As the bananas slowly ripened from the heat, he would snack on them if he got hungry. He also bought big avocadoes that he stowed under his bed and took to dinner when it pleased him. When crew members questioned why Mr. John had an avocado for dinner and they did not, “I’d tell ‘em that when you were out drinking and carrying on, I went to the fruit and vegetable vendors in the market.”
Mr. John served on a number of vessels as a Merchant Marine. One of his favorites was a U.S. Army Hospital ship named “St. Mihiel.” That ship called at ports in New Orleans, Charleston, South Carolina and Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia. He also hired out on the SS Cuba, and made runs from Tampa to Havana, San Juan, Trinidad and Panama. The SS Cuba sported two 1800 horsepower engines and could do 18 to 20 knots.
Before Mr. John joined the Merchant Marines, he served in the Army during World War II, in Germany. In service in 1943, he received his basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Army assigned him to the 20th Armored Division, a mechanized artillery unit using powerful Sherman tanks that followed the infantry. Of the many duties, men in the tanks took care of casualties and rendered first aid. Administration of pain medication helped the injured until they could see a doctor.
Mr. John has recorded the entire story of his military career with the World War II Museum in New Orleans. Not surprisingly, he loves the “D-Day Museum” and wants others to visit what has become one of the most popular tourist spots in the city. On April 22, Mr. John will be accompanying a group of Bay High students on a field trip to the museum.
Born November 24, 1923, in New Orleans, Mr. John also grew up in New Orleans, one of three brothers. Their mother, Mary Eva Stevens, came from Tangipahoa Parish and their father, John Victor Parent, Sr., was born in St. John Parish. Mr. John graduated from Brother Martin High School in New Orleans.
Mr. John moved to Bay St. Louis from Gentilly, Louisiana some ten years ago. When Hurricane Katrina hit, Mr. John and his brother, Charles Allen, stayed in their home on Citizen Street, where the water level reached nearly two feet in the back yard but happily, did not reach inside their home. Mr. John had a generator, and even some gas to run it. His place served as a hot spot for the folks in the neighborhood who rode out the storm. Thanks to his generator and his generosity, people could charge up a cell phone or get some power for operating a saw or drill. Needless to say, he got to know his neighbors as people stood in line and waited their turn to charge up. Mr. John is pleased that six years after Katrina, people pass his house to say “thank you” for providing a tiny oasis after the storm.
Don’t necessarily look for Mr. John to be home should you happen to pass by his house. More than likely, he has taken off to visit friends at the Diamondhead Club House, Keesler Field or the National Guard in Kiln.
Echoing his earlier explanation of his insistence on volunteering where he’s needed: “It’s what keeps me going.”