Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient remembered by his hometown

Douglas Fournet (first row, far left) before he left for Vietnam.
Courtesy the Fournet family

UPDATE: A statue of Douglas Fournet was unveiled in Lake Charles's Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday.

In May 1968, Douglas Fournet's U.S. Army platoon was under sniper fire as it advanced uphill in Vietnam's A Shau Valley.

When the right flank man discovered a mine in front of them, Fournet ordered his men to take cover. Drawing his knife, he ran forward and, using his body as a shield, tried to slash its control wires.

But the mine denoted and the first lieutenant from Lakes Charles, La., was killed instantly.

Fournet was 24.

Two years later, President Richard Nixon awarded him the Medal of Honor posthumously in a ceremony at the White House.

First Lt. Douglas Fournet
Courtesy the Fournet family

"Five men nearest the mine were slightly wounded, but 1st Lt. Fournet's heroic and unselfish act spared his men of serious injury or death," the citation reads.

His hometown has never forgotten his bravery, Lake Charles' Mayor Randy Roach said. This Saturday, 45 years after his death, it will unveil a statue of him in its Veterans Memorial Park.

"We remembered," Roach said. "We honor that memory, we honor their memory and their sacrifice as a family by doing what we're doing. And so it gives us a great deal of comfort knowing that it's something that's meaningful to the family."

Fournet's brother, Rocke, was 17 when he was killed.

"When 'Nam happened it was a ... different time," Rocke Fournet said. "He heard the call. He enlisted and was going to do his best over there. He was a real patriotic dude."

Their father had drowned 15 years earlier, leaving their mother to raise seven children. Douglas Fournet had stepped in, attending his brothers' high school games, taking his siblings to family reunions in Kinder, La., where their father was born. He organized neighborhood football games and played quarterback for both sides.

"He was our pied piper," said Rocke Fournet, now a 64-year-old taxidermist who still lives in Lake Charles. "Doug really took me under his wing."

Douglas Fournet (first row, far left) before he left for Vietnam.
Courtesy the Fournet family

Fournet's wife, his high school sweetheart, Marilyn, was pregnant when he was killed. Their son, Bill Fournet, is now a father himself and he and his family will be at the dedication.

"To me the real story behind everything that the city has done over the years for my father is it's been a testament about friendship and how a community really respects the things that we as humans ought to hold as ideals: friendship, fellowship, selflessness, leadership, courage," said Bill Fournet, the president of The Persimmon Group, a management consulting firm he founded in Tulsa, Okla.

In the years before he left for Vietnam, Douglas Fournet had not settled on what he wanted to do, his brother said. He attended McNeese State University in Lake Charles and worked for the city police department for a while. Then he started assisting a doctor performing autopsies at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, and told his brother that he wanted a job at the hospital.

"He had zeroed in on that," Rocke Fournet said.

The statue has been a community project for Lake Charles. It raised $163,500 for the statue and renovations to the waterfront park.

The sculptor, Janie Stine LaCroix, who grew up in the area, paid attention to details, Rocke Fournet said. Douglas Fournet had injured one of his knees before his death and had written home to tell his brother that unlacing his boot relieved the pain. On the statue, the laces of one of his combat boots are untied, Rocke Fournet said.

Douglas Fournet went through Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga., and was serving in the First Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, originally George Custer's unit. In 2001, his family was able to meet his squad leader, then-Staff Sgt. Bill Krahl. Krahl had saved Fournet's pin, the symbol of their regiment, to one day give to his son.

"For somebody who was in Vietnam for only about eight weeks, the mark he left, all of his men remembered him," Bill Fournet said.