Remembering the Texaco Oklahoma 54 years later

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, May 17, 2016

By Doreen Badeaux

In the wee hours of the morning of March 27, 1971, the lives of many Port Arthur families were changed forever.

On that fateful day, the TS TEXACO OKLAHOMA, broke in two, and sank 120 miles northeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The ship was en route from Port Arthur to Boston, but not only had she sailed from Port Arthur, Port Arthur was her home, and the home of many of those onboard. She was part of the proud Texaco fleet.

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That was 45 years ago, but when the US Flagged ship, SS EL FARO went missing during hurricane Joaquin off the coast of the Bahamas this past October, Port Arthurans felt a familiar pain. We knew what the families of those onboard EL FARO were going through, and what they were about to go through.

The Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center was hosting CavOILcade’s “Queen’s Tea” that week, and while chatting with some of the young Princesses, several asked about the pictures of ships on the wall, and asked about the EL FARO and if any survivors had been found yet. And then one of the young ladies said, “My Grandfather was on a ship that sank. He survived. But it was bad. He still talks about it.” I asked her what her Grandfather’s last name was, and she said “Jacquet”.

The light bulb went on….Mr. Willie Jacquet, a long time Port Arthuran who sailed with the National Maritime Union. He was one of only 13 survivors out of a crew of 44 onboard the TEXACO OKLAHOMA. Mr. Jacquet honors his crewmates each year by attending the Annual Maritime Memorial celebration at the Seamen’s Memorial Sundial, which was built as a memorial for the crew of the TEXACO OKLAHOMA.

Later, I met the Father of this young lady, Marcus Jacquet. His was a familiar face, as he had gone to St. Mary Catholic Elementary School with my sister Shannon. I never realized his dad was Willie Jacquet, who I met later in life. I never knew that one of the kids in her class nearly lost his Dad on that ship.

I knew my brother Kevin had a friend in his class at Bishop Byrne High School, Ruben Perello, whose Dad was one of the 13 survivors onboard. And once I became involved with the Seafarers’ Center, I met Rick Koenig, a well- respected member of our local Maritime industry, whose Dad was lost onboard. He was the ship’s Chief Engineer who was lost after he and the remaining crew abandoned the stern.

Other friends have stories of their Dads sailing onboard the TEXACO OKLAHOMA, who happened to be off during that voyage. My high school classmate, Christian Respess’ father, Capt. Ron Respess, was the permanent Chief Engineer on the ship, but had gone on vacation during this run. He later became a Sabine Pilot. Well known community leader Verna Rutherford’s Dad, had a stroke shortly before sailing. The stroke kept him on land, and in an odd twist of fate, saved his life.

Yes, even 45 years later, Port Arthur knows the pain of such a sinking. We know how families continue to feel the loss of their loved ones, so many years later. So on Friday, May 20, we will be commemorating the 45th Anniversary of the sinking, as part of the Annual Maritime Memorial, observing National Maritime Day.

Doreen M. Badeaux
Secretary General
Apostleship of the Sea of the United States of America
1500 Jefferson Drive
Port Arthur, TX 77642-0646