World War II veteran Mayner Fontenot is pictured as he sits near the front garden of Heritage Manor in Ville Platte. He recently reflected upon his time serving in the United States Navy. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
The greatest voyage
Today, Mayner Fontenot is confined to a wheelchair and residing at Heritage Manor Nursing Home in Ville Platte. While his physical condition may have diminished, his memories are still very vivid and specific.
Some of his memories are of his service during World War II while in the United States Navy.
Like many other Americans during that time, Fontenot enlisted in the Navy. As he explained, “Everybody who was enlisting then was enlisting in the Navy because they did not want to be on dry land to serve like those poor GIs who had to fight in the trenches and everything else.”
Fontenot spent his time in basic training at an old Army base which was halfway between Houston and Galvston. “If we needed to go and practice on the water or to do some swimming,” he said, “they’d bus us down to that section where we could go on Galveston Beach. We had all of that water that was free to use.”
After completing basic training, Fontenot served as a postmaster.
“Everybody paid me the highest respect because for everybody their mail was the most important thing they got,” Fontenot said. “They wanted to stay on the good side of the postmaster.”
Fontenot served 24 months as a postmaster between San Diego and Alaska and was then transferred to a new supersonic destroyer. “It had never been on a cruise before,” he said. “We took it on a shakedown cruise. We had to go and use that ship for three to six months and take all the kinks out of it.”
Later, Fontenot’s ship sailed through the Panama Canal and around the Caribbean islands before venturing near Cape Hatteras, N.C. At that time, the ship found itself in the middle of a hurricane.
“We woke up one morning, and I never want to live that over again,” Fontenot recalled. “We sat down in the chow hall for our breakfast, and, after a while, that ship took a dip. The walls were straight out ahead of us. There was nothing left on the shelves. Everything we had on the table was at a standstill against the wall. That ship went under because the nose went up and down in the Atlantic.”
He continued, “When it got down, you couldn’t see the rest of the bow ahead of the engine room at all. Then, all of a sudden, it would come up, and we would see it rise slowly. That bow would come up 60-feet in the air, and, all of a sudden, it was like there was no water under there. It would come back down and would flap like a bird flapping its wings. It’s the oddest thing ever.”
Fontenot was discharged from the service after the war and returned home to Ville Platte. As he concluded to look back on his time in the Navy, he expressed
it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I would not trade that for anything.”