By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Region – Visibility is a major theme in the life of Vietnam War veteran and author Mike Montigny.
Overseas, he was a machine gunner, a dangerously visible member of the Marine infantry, often targeted first by Viet Cong fighters in attacks. Conversely, anti-war sentiments back home forced him to live a life of invisibility, hiding his experience abroad even as they haunted him daily.
Now, though, Montigny has finally shed that cloak of invisibility once again, telling his story in a new book and hoping to empower other veterans in the process.
“Veterans are coming forward and calling me from all over the country and saying ‘Thank you for sharing your story,’” Montigny said. “They’re saying ‘I want to tell mine before I die.’ That makes me proud to have written this book.”
The book, entitled “A Few Good Angels,” tells Montigny’s story, starting at home in Rhode Island before taking him across the planet to Vietnam and back to a home country by then politically and culturally changed by the war.
Drafted at age 19 just after graduating high school, Montigny went off to war with the shadow of a childhood prophesy hanging over him. When his mother was young, he recalled, a neighborhood elder with a believed ability to see the future told her that her youngest son, Mike, would die in a foreign war. In spite of that prophesy, however, and despite spending weeks under near daily attack, Mike survived the war and returned home.
“I thought I was a hero like most of us did,” he said of his thinking as he finally flew back home to Rhode Island. “I felt very proud of who I was.”
That very flight home, however, showed him many stateside did not share such a reverent view of his service.
When a pilot offered to upgrade his airline seat to first class to honor him, fellow flyers protested, banishing Montigny to the back of the plane lest they themselves boycott the flight. At a party thrown in his honor a few days later, the first question he remembers hearing before any sort of pleasantry was “How many people did you kill?”
“The more questions I was being asked and the way people looked at me on the streets, I just said ‘To hell with it,’” Montigny said. “I took the uniform off and became invisible.”
Living having wiped his public identity of his service to his country, Montigny built a career in human resources and married his wife Sandra, all while still remembering the war and constantly wrestling with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) it gave him.
It wasn’t until three years ago, just after his 70th birthday and 50 years after he last saw combat, that Montigny finally let his story back into the light of day. Triggered by a conversation with a friend over golf, he began writing his book and eventually released it through Amazon.
A healing experience both for him and for veterans he says have reached out to him since publication, Montigny is grateful to have taken on a project in writing a book that he previously never imagined attempting.
Indeed, after Montigny spent so many years keeping quiet, the book has suddenly put him on stages with microphones in hand and interested audiences before him as he has toured New England, speaking to schools and veterans about the war.
In the end though, it’s an interaction not with a fellow veteran or a student, but, rather, a former anti-war protester themselves that Montigny remembers most prominently.
“He said ‘If I knew what you went through, I wouldn’t have protested; I would have prayed for you,’” Montigny said.
A Few Good Angels is available in Kindle and paperback versions on Amazon. For more information, visit www.AFewGoodAngels.com