Here Lies Red Lady

Rio History With Steve Hathcock

Red Ladies Tombstone on Padre Island TexasWho was Red Lady and why did 81 sailors choose to bury her atop the tallest dune on Padre Island?

Prologue: Summer 1963: Ila Loetscher, yet to be named “The Turtle Lady,” was driving north, along the shores of Padre Island, searching for sea turtle nests when she spotted the edge of an oddly-shaped stone protruding from atop a sand dune. Stopping to investigate, she discovered a rough slab of concrete. Slowly brushing the sand from the stone Ila began reading a message.
“Here lies Red Lady, who died one November day and gently here is placed to stay…. She left everyone (of 81 men) with an aching heart…High dune at waters edge
Is this the grave of a pirate princess? Ila wondered as she continued to sweep aside the sand. She found the answer a moment later as she uncovered the rest of the message.
“because with that timid dog we could not part”…the words continued, “our dear little mascot who was so shy deserves a salute from everyone passing by.”
The question of who was buried beneath the slab had been answered, but now Ila was hooked. She knew she would not rest until she found out who the men were that buried Red Lady and when did this event take place?
An excellent question indeed and it took four years of research before Ila located one of the men through a newspaper columnist named Ed Syers. Ed heard about Ila’s quest and wrote about her in his syndicated column. After reading the story, Lon Seebach, a former member of the little known, Beach Patrol, that guarded the shores of Padre Island during WWII and who now lived in Indianapolis, contacted Ila and told her about the little dog so many men loved.

Though the sneak attack on the fateful day in December of 1941 may have caught the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor unprepared, it was not a total surprise to many U.S. military leaders who had been keeping a keen eye on Europe and the string of islands dotting the Pacific Rim. After apirates landingn emergency session of Congress, war was declared against Japan. In response, Germany and Italy, siding with the Japanese, declared war on the United States.

The sleeping giant had indeed been awakened. Like it or not, America was at war. No one knew for sure what the outcome would be during those dark years of 1942-43. German subs operating alone or in dreaded wolf packs, prowled the open sea, sinking Allied Shipping with impunity. Over twenty U-Boats operated in the Gulf of Mexico, destroying or heavily damaging over 160 ships. Flotsam and dead bodies washed ashore on Padre Island and the citizens of Port Isabel reported hearing loud explosions out in the Gulf and bright flashes of light during the night. Oftentimes smoke could be seen on the horizon, a clear indication of a ship in trouble. Equally as frightening, was the prospect of Nazi submarines landing saboteurs and spies on deserted beaches along the shores of America. All along the West Coast there were sightings of Japanese subs with at least five reported cases of actual shelling of shore installations in Oregon and California taking place.

To counter these threats, the Coast Guard organized a beach patrol unit whose members became widely known as, “sand-pounders.” Wartime beach patrols detected enemy vessels operating in coastal waters and reported landings of enemy forces. Their presence also made it difficult for people on the shore to communicate with the enemy at sea.

Sand-Pounders Coast Guard Beach Patrol Hut on Padre Island World War 2Padre Island was quarantined for the duration of the war and the sand-pounders set up clusters of comfortable huts at two mile intervals along the length of the Island. The men patrolled the beach on horseback or in jeeps with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on the rear. In addition, there was a small fleet of fast traveling, specially designed 26-foot surf-boats, that could land a squad of heavily armed sailors, each carrying a variety of weapons including a standard issue Thompson submachine gun and a colt 45 pistol. The units were further strengthened by the arrival of specially trained canine teams made up of men who were loners by nature and Coast Guard Sand Pounders Surf Patrol Padre Island Texas World War 2their savage canine counter-parts. Armed to the teeth, man and dog would slip out of camp on moonless nights to patrol their sandy domain. Generally, each canine team patrolled about one mile of beach. The dogs were specially picked for their aggressiveness; an 80 pound snarling dog was much more intimidating than a man with a pistol.Coast Guard Canine Beach Patrol Thompson Machine Gun
Many of the sailors in the newly formed beach patrols were mere boys, fresh off the farm, who had never been away from home prior to their enlistments. They missed their friends, families and girlfriends or wives. But most of all, they missed the companionship of their dogs. If a mascot were to be found, it would not be among the ranks of the canine unit. A ball thrown to one of the canine patrol members would either be violently shredded or worse, disdainfully ignored by the beast altogether.

One day, while a group of sailors were picking up supplies in nearby Port Isabel, they noticed a little yellow dog watching them from the other side of the parking lot. One of the men picked up a stick and tossed it towards the animal.
Let the games begin. Forty five minutes and 200 thrown sticks later, the men were ready to head back to the Island. Of the little yellow dog, they figured she lived in the area and so left her at the depot. But as they drove off, the yellow mutt followed them jumping into the back of the jeep as it slowed down to board the ferry back to Padre Island. No one said anything until the ferry was well out into the bay. Well, after all, they couldn’t put her into the water, they all agreed. No, they couldn’t do that. Instead they would just wait until the next trip to Port Isabel when they would post a notice about the little “black” dog.
With that settled, the little dog had found a new home.
Many names for her were bandied about, Sinbad and Spike were both very popular, as was Apollo, but none seemed to stick to the tail-wagging yellow mutt. She may well have remained unnamed if it weren’t for the return of Captain Johansen, nicknamed “Old Red-Lead Joe” by his men because of his obsession to protect the exposed surfaces of the unit’s equipment by painting it with red lead.
One day a painting party was busily brushing away when one of the men noticed the nameless yellow dog. Knowing his commander was returning on the next boat the man brushed red lead onto her coat and chased her down the path. Upon seeing her, the captain was quoted as saying; “I see you’ve red-leaded the little lady.” As this was the nearest the men had ever come to receiving praise from their commander they quickly named the dog, Red Lady.
Red Lady was a welcome relief to the boy sailors, playing ball or sneaking a snack out of the back door of the mess hall. But she loved nothing better than racing alongside and leaping aboard whenever a jeep left camp on beach patrol. There was always a pair of arms to catch her as she leapt.2 sailors in jeep by water

One day however, racing to hitch a ride, Lady stumbled and fell directly under the jeeps wheels and was crushed by the hard rubber tires. Her death was heart-felt by every member of her Island family. The little yellow dog was laid to rest high atop a tall sand dune and her grave was marked with a slab of stone that read, “Here lies Red Lady…..”
Her funeral was attended by all, including the gentleman who named her, Captain Johansen.
Authors note: By early 1944, there was a need of more men for sea duty and at the same time, the danger of an invasion by sea was no longer considered a threat and the head of the Navy ordered a fifty percent reduction in force of the Sand-Pounders. By July of 1944, only 800 men were still patrolling America’s beaches mostly on the west coast.


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