During Vietnam, Kenneth Fontenot was part of a classified underground electronics unit for the Army Signal Corps. After the military, he did many different jobs, from construction, electrical, roughnecking, ambulance attendant, preacher, and therapist. He said, “My daddy called me an educated fool, learned everything, and never stuck with one thing.” Fontenot stated, “I almost hated my country when I got back, but everything changed when I found the Lord. I realized I needed to quit blaming people and start looking at me. And then I tried to help as many people as I could through the years.” Here is his story…
Kenneth Fontenot was born in 1948 in the small town of Iota, LA. He was the last baby born in a small clinic in town, which burned down two weeks after his birth. He stated with a laugh, “You got to watch when you come into town because the welcome sign said, Welcome to Iota, and the back of the sign it said, come back again.” Fontenot was the middle child with two older sisters and a younger brother and sister. He recalled how his mom would get clay, and they would use it to seal the cracks in the walls of the family’s home. The Fontenot family spoke French, which he still uses today when talking with his older sister.
The Fontenot’s worked hard as sharecroppers and raised many animals. Fontenot spent his mornings milking cows, swapping the hogs, turning the geese and chickens loose, or gathering eggs from their hatchery. They had many types of fowl they sold to people in town. They also had horses and a pack of beagle hounds. Fontenot would even miss the first few months of school every year to work the land and take in the crops. He had a special permit to drive a dump truck and tractor at age 13, which enabled him to take the crops to the rice dryers. His father worked at the rice dryer factory most of the year but would help plant the crops. Even though he was busy with chores, he still found time to participate in some sports while growing up, but his favorite thing to do was to go out by himself in the evening to hunt. It was legal to hunt at night during this time, but he had to have all chores completed before hunting. Fontenot’s father would give him 3 shells to go out and hunt, but the rule was he had to come back with 3 animals. Fontenot stated, “A couple of times if I would miss on the first shot, I would have to wait all night for two rabbits to line up so I could shoot them with one shot so I could get ’em both.” Fontenot loved when all his family members would come down for the holidays. He recalled 20 to 30 family members visiting at a time, his mother would be cooking big meals, and the kids would take turns sitting on top of the ice cream churn while his daddy was turning it.
Fontenot’s father was a WWII Army Veteran who spent two of his four years in the military missing behind enemy lines with a special unit and presumed dead until his mother finally got notice he was coming home. Fontenot wanted to join the Army like his father, and a few weeks after he enlisted, he still received a draft notice. Fontenot’s girlfriend was having family troubles, so they got married just two weeks before leaving to make sure she was taken care of while he was gone. After an adventurous ride to the bus station when his father accidentally went the wrong way down the newly split one-way road, Kenneth Fontenot boarded a bus for Fort Polk Army Base for basic training. After basic training, Fontenot visited home before heading to Fort Monmouth, NJ, for Signal Corps School for approximately six months. He trained and worked on the Ampa 52 after testing well in electronics. When he arrived at the barracks in New Jersey, he stated that he met his “twin,” Don. Originally from Canada and then Akron, OH, Don also spoke French and many people had a hard time telling the two apart. Fontenot said they stayed good friends over the years and kept in touch. During his time in New Jersey, Fontenot’s wife gave birth to their first child. Soon after his Signal Corps training was completed, he received orders to go to Belen, NM, where he would spend the remainder of his time. He worked underground as a Fixation Transmitter Repairman. This position performed essential preventive maintenance checks and services on radios, transmitters, communication security equipment, and other associated equipment, ensuring secure communication was always available. Fontenot said if you were flying above, you would never even know the base was there. His brother Ronnie is also a Vietnam Veteran who enlisted in the Navy during the war.
Once Fontenot was honorably discharged, he headed to Freeport, TX, to work with his uncle. At his father’s advice and having a background in the electrical field from his time in the military, he decided to take some classes and became an electrical foreman. Fontenot and his wife now had five children, including twins, but the marriage ended. “I had a bit of an attitude back then with my struggles from the military and the hippies calling us baby killers and freaks. We were all going through a hard time back then. I lost a lot of friends that committed suicide when they got back. It was a hard time.”
Fontenot moved to Alamo Beach, Texas, with his second wife, and they had a daughter. After 17 years, the marriage ended. At the time, Fontenot was “roughnecking,” a term for a person whose occupation is hard manual labor used across multiple industries. Fontenot admitted, “I almost hated my country when I got back, and everything changed when I found the Lord.”
Fontenot and his brother grew up very competitive, always trying to be better than one another. Their relationship struggled until Fontenot confessed, “My brother led me to the Lord. Instead of me changing him out of his church, he brought me to the Lord. That is when he and I started being brothers.” Fontenot studied the ministry for almost 3 years and did some preaching for a while. He also took faith-based classes earning several certificates in anger management, chemical dependency, and complex family issues, to name a few. This led him to work with the juvenile department for seven years and then in prison ministry for approximately seven years.
It wasn’t long after his divorce that a woman caught his eye when she walked in front of him, it was his future wife, Clydia. Fontenot invited her over for dinner with her two young children, and they soon became best friends. They were both caring for their ailing parents and grew very close. Fontenot stated, “We were best friends, we did everything together, we worked together, we would’ve been married 24 years in October of last year, and I lost her in January.” He went on to say, “We could talk and trust and be there for each other through thick and thin.”
His wife, Clydia, suffered a massive stroke in 2014. Fontenot was told for two years that she wouldn’t make it. His wife was struggling with a blood disorder, and he realized that some of her issues were coming from taking 21 different types of medications. In close contact with the doctor, Fontenot cared for Clydia and got her down to eight medications, and stated, “Her mind started coming back.” Then two years before she passed, her kidneys and liver started failing. She had to go on dialysis, so Fontenot took training to administer her dialysis at home. Fontenot recalled, “I would put her on it at 9 o’clock in the evening and take her off it about 3 in the morning. Then the next day, we would have a date.” Fontenot cared for his ailing wife for several years, taking care of her every need before she passed.
Fontenot was praying that he would meet someone to fill the hole left by losing his wife, Clydia. His prayers were recently answered when he met Wanda. The couple wants to have a blessing ceremony but doesn’t plan to marry. Still living in Texas, Fontenot has a sign on the gate that reads “God’s Gift.” He has 8 children, 6 biological and 2 stepchildren he helped raise. He also has 12 grandchildren.
Fontenot humbly stated, “I am positive that there are a lot better stories out there than mine, and I am appreciative that someone put my name in for this.” He went on to say, “We are kind of the left out, lost ones, we didn’t get help till years later, and I appreciate the work that you (VCC) are doing to help us.”
Veterans Care Coordination is proud to recognize Kenneth Fontenot for his service to our country. We are privileged to have the opportunity to share the stories of our nation’s heroes. Thank you for your service, Kenneth, and welcome home.