Freedom Fighters: Charlie Fant - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Freedom Fighters: Charlie Fant

(KLTV) -

 Charlie Fant says when he joined the Navy in April of 1943, he volunteered to kill or be killed. In the thirteen major battles he was part of, there chances for both.

Charlie Fant learned in the very first of his battles in the South Pacific that his prediction of "kill or be killed." could easily come true.

"The Japanese torpedo boats came in on us and there was an aircraft carrier there with us and a torpedo hit it and it hit the magazine of the ship, and it blew up and there was eleven people got off that aircraft carrier," Fant recalls.

Only eleven sailors on the carrier survived the attack, and most of them were badly burned.

"My understanding was there was 1800 people on that aircraft carrier."

Fant volunteered for the job no one else wanted, the grisly  job of burying the dead sailors at sea.

"Me and another fellow would go down and take them up to the deck and they would have a chute and we'd put them in that chute," he said, recalling a difficult task, to say the least.

Accompanied by prayers, the weighted body bags would drop to the bottom of the sea.

"My feelings was for the families, because I couldn't do anymore for them."

Fant's faith compelled him to do what he could to honor those who had died.

"I became a believer when I was eight years old and I was always a believer, and still am."

Fant's faith would sustain him through thirteen major battles, as American forces began to take back the Pacific Islands occupied by the Japanese.

It was on June 19 and 20 that Fant was part of the biggest sea battle of the war, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, aka "The Marianas Turkey Shoot."

"Whenever we got up in there, the radios could tell there was a Japanese fleet out there and they started coming in on us and we didn't have a place to go. They put torpedo boats, our Navy, along that canal. Whenever they was coming in on us, the torpedo boats started coming in from the side. The Japanese ships started zigzagging trying to miss those torpedoes and that's whenever we opened up on them."

"We wiped out the Japanese fleet in that battle.."

The losses to the Japanese of three aircraft carriers and some aircraft were irreplaceable. In the battle for Okinawa, inexperienced pilots dedicated to giving their lives for their emperor would become the biggest threat to allied ships.

"They didn't have any ships to come in but those planes could come from the island and there was over 300 suicide planes came in on us that day."

While Fant's ship, the U.S.S. Minneapolis, never sustained a direct hit, one plane did make a hole in the side of the ship as it was crashing into the water. Fant insists he was never scared, except for one time.

"When I got scared it was in Guam."

Fant and others had crawled out of their gun turret to watch the action when a suicide plane headed straight for them. Fant took refuge in an air duct.

"Not that I was afraid of being killed. I didn't want to get burned up!"

Charlie Fant was discharged from the Navy in April of 1945. Although he is proud of his service, he feels that America owes more to its many veterans who sacrificed so much than it has ever paid.

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