Herbert Nelson Fontenot was born in April 1927 in Fenton, Louisiana. His father died when Fontenot was only 11 years old. He began to live on his own in the bayous. He feared no animals and could sleep anywhere. Fontenot worked in the rice fields before he was a teenager. He learned to drive a tractor at that young age. He worked day and night. He enjoyed movies and managed to find his way into the Kinder Movie Theater for free. Fontenot had eight sisters. One of his sisters particularly watched over him. He stayed at her house a lot. Fontenot was lost after his dad died because he never got along with his mother. He did not approve of the men who came to visit his mother's home so he would go into the swamps to escape. Fontenot found wild game to kill. He learned at an early age to shoot a .22 caliber rifle and kill rabbits and squirrels. He would barter them for fish or if he caught fish, he would barter the catch for a chicken. He became very self sufficient. Times were rough. He only had two pants to wear all the time. He had no shoes to wear, even during the winter. His feet became hard and calloused. An older man had to trim away the hardness on his heel before Fontenot could feel relief after he fell from a tree. Fontenot was elated at the relief the man gave him by cutting away the hard skin. Fontenot stayed in the swamps but did go to school until the 4th grade. At 16 years old, he joined the Navy with his older sister signing the papers.
Herbert Fontenot went to Camp Wallace, Texas for Navy boot camp. He had no problem with the weather but wearing boots was difficult. His feet were treated and he improved. [Annotator's Note: Fontenot had survived independently for years in the bayous of Louisiana prior to his induction. During those times, he had never worn shoes.] After four weeks of boot camp, he returned home on leave. He was then sent to Norfolk, Virginia for assignment aboard a ship bound for Africa. He would go on to serve on LSTs [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank] and LCIs [Annotator's Note: Landing Craft, Infantry] and ultimately the escort carrier USS Saipan (CVL-48). He has seen the carrier since the end of the war. It has been converted to carry helicopters. Since Fontenot was such a good shot, he was assigned to be a rifleman on the ships. [Annotator's Note: Fontenot learned to survive in the bayous by shooting wild game with a .22 caliber rifle.] He enjoyed being in the service. The older men took care of him. Fontenot served in Africa and Europe. He did fear for his safety while on guard duty over Italian prisoners of war. He was given authority to fire on the Italians if he felt threatened. Late at night, Fontenot heard a rustling in the nearby woods and challenged the noisemaker. When no response came, he fired on the noise. Upon inspection the next morning, the victim turned out to be a cow. [Annotator's Note: Fontenot laughs.] He does not recall serving in any battles, just pulling guard duty in various ports. When the war was over in the Atlantic, he did not want to be sent the Pacific. The Japanese wanted to die. The two bombs [Annotator's Note: the two atomic bombs] dropped on them ended the war. Fontenot had signed up for the duration of the war plus two years so he stayed in the Navy following the war's conclusion. He was discharged six months short of that commitment after serving near Philadelphia after the war.
Herbert Fontenot found a sweetheart after his discharge from the Navy. She was similar in background to him. They fell in love immediately and got married. Jobs were scarce so he went to night school on the G.I. Bill while he worked at odd jobs. He learned to play cards in the service and was successful at winning wagers at cards. His wife pulled away from that life style. He took management courses at McNeese [Annotator's Note: McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana] and became supervisor at the bus company for the City of Lake Charles. He retired after 38 years on the job. He likes to remember that he learned to eat from the animals and learned to live from the Navy. [Annotator's Note: Fontenot learned to survive on his own prior to being a teenager in the bayous of Louisiana by watching what the wild animals ate so that he knew the vegetation was safe to consume.]
Herbert Fontenot joined the Navy because it was the only branch that would accept him at 16 years of age. He loved his time in the Navy. He was in Fenton, Louisiana when Pearl Harbor was bombed, but he never heard the news. [Annotator's Note: Fontenot lived largely a solitary life in the bayous near Fenton until he joined the Navy.] His sister helped him sign up at 16 years old. Fontenot was estranged from his mother. [Annotator's Note: Fontenot was only 11 years old when his father had died. Shortly afterward, his mother had gentlemen visitors that Fontenot did not approve of so he stayed away from home from that point.] His older sister took better care of him and helped him go into the Navy. He was given good clothing when he joined the service. He liked that he had a place to stay. He got seasick right away on his deployment voyage to Africa. He still had fun watching the other ships and the aerial bombardments. He loved the war. Friends were plentiful while he was in the Navy. The war changed him because he had nothing before the service. He earned money afterward and became even more self sufficient. He left the Navy after the war because the discipline became more rigid. He was discharged as a first class seaman. Jobs were tough to find after he left the service. He did a lot of hard oil field work. The roughneck work physically hurt him until an older fellow gave him some helpful hints on how to safely do the work. He was eventually released because of his physical injuries. He was devastated. He got an offer to drive a city bus and was hired to go to work. He worked day and night. It became too much. He learned to overhaul engines and eventually replaced a manager who had a drinking problem.
Herbert Fontenot did not look back after leaving the Navy. He enjoyed his wartime experience and his career afterward. He did not like changing jobs. His service in the Atlantic and Mediterranean was completely different from the action in the Pacific. He has visited The National WWII Museum and thinks positively toward it. The service taught him well. He learned to become more than he ever thought he would be. He would recommend the service to young people just starting out in life. He had a good life although he lost his wife to cancer when she was only 53 years old. Cancer has been the scourge of his family. He enjoys his life today. People treat him very well.
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