Matthew Bonnette believed a prized possession, an item that proudly displayed his lifelong football fandom, had been lost in the current of the Mighty Mississippi never to be seen again.
That possession, though, ended up not being lost forever — it just took a voyage across the Atlantic.
“That day it just went under the surface and it never popped back up,” Bonnette said. “I never thought I would see it again.”
Bonnette, a native of Marksville, grew up like many young boys in the state of Louisiana as a die-hard LSU football fan. His older brother used to take him to home games at legendary Tiger Stadium. Even after he grew up and graduated high school, Bonnette still loved going to LSU games.
So what is one of his favorite memories?
The 2004 Alabama-LSU game at Death Valley — a 26-10 win for the Tigers, who at the time were coached by Nick Saban.
“I remember Alabama was driving and then Corey Webster intercepted the ball in the end zone and returned it back like 30 yards (it was 44 yards) to seal the win,” Bonnette remembered.
Bonnette would become a successful crane operator for Weeks Marine — a Louisiana-based maritime construction company that specializes in rebuilding beaches and making shipping channels deeper for vessels. After saving extra cash, Bonnette opted to buy himself a custom-made hard hat, displaying LSU’s well-known purple and gold colors and a LSU Tiger logo.
Traditionally a hard hat will set someone back 20 to 30 dollars; Bonnette’s custom headwear cost more than 100 dollars.
“Anybody that has worked in this industry or construction industry knows that your hard hat is part of who you are out there,” Bonnette said. “It kind of defined of what I am about and what I love — all things LSU. Football, basketball and baseball.”
Bonnette proudly wore his LSU hard hat everyday he was on the job — until one day in 2015 while working in the Mississippi.
“I was just south of New Orleans in the Mississippi River,” Bonnette said. “We were doing a job in Belle Chasse. We had a windy day. I guess I didn’t have it buckled tight enough. The wind caught it and blew it off my head.”
It is not uncommon for things to fall into the water while at a job site — sometimes those items pop back up to the surface and tug boats can fish them out. That was not the case on that day; at least, that is what Bonnette believed at the time.
Early last week, Bonnette was working on a project rebuilding a beach along the North Carolina coastline. It was during that time that Bonnette’s phone rang with interesting news.
“We were unloading bulldozers on the beach and I get phone call from one of the captains on a boat that works with us,” Bonnette said. “I thought maybe he needs help with something. He goes to asking me about whatever happened to that hard hat I used to have.
“I told him that I had lost overboard a few years ago,” Bonnette added. “He said ‘It’s in Ireland.’ I was like ‘whatever.’ I just thought he was calling me to give me a hard time or something. I am thinking he is messing with me. I mean we are kind of like a family out there. We are pretty close and I thought he was just joking with me.”
Bonnette went back to unloading the bulldozers on the beach. He then took the boat ride back to the dredge boat where they live while working and decided to check his Facebook page. Bonnette soon realized that the ship captain was in fact not ‘messing’ with him.
“They had tagged my union in post about a hard hat that looked identical to the one I lost years ago,” Bonnette said. “They had Googled what the stickers meant on the hard hat and reached out to them that way. Then my union (International Union of Operating Engineers) posted the photo of the hard hat and people. And a whole bunch of people new it was mine and started tagging in me in the post.”
Bonnette couldn’t believe that his hard hat somehow made its way from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico and up through the Atlantic Ocean. The crane operator wasn’t the only one that was surprised.
Liam MacNamara loves combing the rocky coasts of Fanore, County Clare, Ireland, as evident by the multiple posts on the Facebook page of Burren Shores Beachcombing. In his years searching the shoreline, MacNamara has come across a variety of items that wash up on shore — everything from whale vertebrae to toy trains and of course old fishing buoys. But nothing like Bonnette’s hard hat.
“I was delighted to have found the hard hat,” MacNamara said. “I figured it was kinda special when I spotted it and delighted even more to be able to return it to Matthew. It is simply amazing to think of the distance it covered and the time it took. What an adventure for a hard hat.”
Bonnette reached out to MacNamara and after discussing the hard hat’s 4,300-plus mile adventure — Bonnette gave his address and was thrilled to learn that MacNamara would be shipping the hard hat back to him in Louisiana.
So what will Bonnette do once his formerly lost prized possession is back in hands? Take a moment to briefly wear it before putting it on display to serve as a conversation starter for years to come.
“I am going to put it on just for the heck of it,” Bonnette laughed. “I am definitely going to hang it up on the wall in my man cave. There is definitely a story behind that. It is unbelievable.”