From a fractured Haitian home, he became a Marine by learning from scratch
By Lance Cpl. Jess Levens
| | September 17, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
It was a stormy night in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and the 15-year-old boy lay on his bare mattress shivering as the cold rain filtered through the ceiling and soaked his bed.
"It was so bad," said Pfc. Nasson Nesthant in tears. "My mother and my sister and me sat in the house, cold and wet. Hungry."
Nineteen-year-old Nesthant, now a member of Platoon 1098, Company B, was born and raised in Haiti. He migrated to the United States with the dream of every immigrant, but encountered trouble along the way.
Nesthant was 17 when it became clear his poverty-stricken mother couldn't take care of him and his younger sister, Michma. They migrated to America with their uncle Larry and found themselves living in Kansas City, Mo.
"When I came to Kansas City, I wanted to go to school," said Nesthant. "I never go to school in Haiti, but in America, school is free."
Uncle Larry had other ideas. He told Nesthant to get a job and forget about school, but Nesthant couldn't read, or even speak English.
Nesthant said he tried to get a job, but no one would hire him because he couldn't fill out job applications.
After a few months of looking for work, Nesthant met a Haitian boy about his age named Cliff, who understood Nesthant's problem and invited him to school.
Cliff took Nesthant to the school office and helped him fill out the enrollment papers. Nesthant said he didn't like school until he found out about the soccer team.
"Soccer is the best sport in the world," he said. "In Haiti, it is all we play."
Nesthant tried out for the soccer team and he said he was the first player selected. His teammates gave him rides to school and soccer practice, but this angered Uncle Larry.
"My friends wear jewelry and hats," said Nesthant. "My uncle think they are in gangs, because in Haiti, that is how drug dealers dress. He think I sell drugs, and I hate drugs. I don't even like smoke. I am no drug dealer. We get to the championship game and my uncle say, 'If you go, you cannot stay here.' But I call my friend and we play soccer anyway. When I come home, my clothes were in the yard. So I put my clothes in a sack and leave. I did not have nowhere to go, so I just walk down the street."
Nesthant roamed the streets, sleeping in bushes and on people's porches for about four months - sometimes missing school and soccer. He had no food or money, and his teammates were concerned.
"They ask me where I go," said Nesthant. "I tell them my situation, and they give me food, and let me come to their house for dinner."
Determined to have a better life, Nesthant made it a point to learn to read and speak English, so he frequented the local library.
"I went to the library a lot and started reading baby books," said Nesthant. "I needed to learn my ABCs."
One day at the library, Nesthant met a young woman named Kathy Kelly.
"I meet Kathy and she say to me, 'Why are you reading baby books?' I tell her why and she give me her phone number and said call her."
Several months passed from that day, and Nesthant never called because he didn't have a phone.
"I reaching my pockets one day and find her number," said Nesthant. "I saw a pay phone, and I try to call, but I did not have any money. I slam the phone down real hard a quarter fell out. So I call her."
Nesthant met Kelly at the library and she began teaching him to read. When she found out Nesthant was homeless, she took him home to live with her, her mother and her brother.
"Kathy take me home and show me Sesame Street and Barney to help me learn," said Nesthant. "She got me clothes and take care of me."
Nesthant and Kelly fell in love over time, and they have a 5-month-old son named Charleston.
With Kelly's help and his own hard work, Nesthant earned his high school diploma.
While Nesthant was living with Kelly, he saw a Marine Corps commercial on TV, and became very interested.
"I did not even know what the Marine Corps is, but it looked good," said Nesthant. "I go to school and talk to the recruiter. He tell me the Marine Corps can help me get education, so it is good."
Nesthant said he wanted a job with cars - something he knows relatively well.
"In Haiti, everyone fix cars," he said. "I see cars all my life. That is what I want."
Nesthant enlisted as a bulk-fuel specialist and arrived here for recruit training three months ago.
Marine Corps recruit training is considered brutal by most recruits, but Nesthant said he loves it. Just the fact that they eat three meals a day amazes him.
"In Haiti we only eat one time," recalled Nesthant. "In the morning we eat a piece of bread with peanut butter and drink lemonade. And at night we drink lemonade and go to bed."
Nesthant's malnourished family's was hard for him to discuss. When Nesthant was 15, his 5-year-old brother died of food poisoning, and when he was about six, his infant sister died of starvation.
When Nesthant arrived in the U.S., the 5-foot-5-inch young man weighed about 90 pounds. Now he weighs about 130 pounds.
Nesthant also said the drill instructors are the reason he was able to pass recruit training.
"I never have a father," sobbed Nesthant. "The drill instructors are like my daddy. I never have a man tell me what to do or if I do something bad to stop. They don't let me give up ever, even when I want to give up. If I did not have Kathy and my baby, I would try to stay here forever. It is so good."
Staff Sgt. Resty Paz, Nesthant's senior drill instructor, said he and the drill instructors had to simplify everything for Nesthant so he would understand.
"On the rifle range, he was afraid to shoot," said Paz. "We told him it was like looking through a camera and taking a picture. He may not understand everything, but he wants to be a Marine so bad. He is pure heart. I wish all my recruits had his heart."
Nesthant said his road to the Corps has been hard, but he takes comfort in knowing he and his family have a future.
"I might be stupid and I might not understand," said Nesthant. "I do not always know what I am doing, but at least I am here. At least I am trying. I am just so happy to be here today."