A West Warwick Athlete Finds Himself in the Jungles of Viet Nam

mike-montigny-ring“Welcome to Hell” was the sign he saw prominently posted at the gate at Parris Island, North Carolina.

Its message wasn’t over-the-top bluster.

Instead, it was the not-so-nice entry point telling Michael A. Montigny his life was about to seriously change. He was at this camp to learn skills that would enable him to survive deployment to Viet Nam.

The former West Warwick athlete had no serious intention of going to war but he was one of the unfortunates who weren’t already signed on to a college or university. He didn’t have powerful “others” of wealth and influence who could get him out of the precarious position.

No, instead, he was the son of a hard-working, West Warwick family.

That meant, at 18, he was available for the draft. Recognizing that, he felt it was better to die a Marine than aligned with another branch of the service. And so, he signed on and entered  the toughest arena of his young life.

Now, in 144 pages of his new book, “A Few Good Angels,” Michael A. Montigny tells how angels stepped in, at critical junctures, changing the trajectory of his life.

He’d discover:  he wasn’t to be a casualty after all.

In fact, he was to tell his story to countless others, giving hope that there just may be a higher purpose in life, after all.

What struck me so, as I interviewed Mike? That I may have figured in his story, too, for as a young college girl, home on Christmas break, I pigeon-holed the envelopes that went out to thousands of the young men in my town. I recall asking a co-worker, in my naivete: “Why’s the US government sending all these Christmas cards to the young men in our town?” Her answer? “They’re not cards—they’re draft notices. These guys are going to Viet Nam.”

I thought it especially cruel they got them during the holiday season.

I wondered if I put Mike’s letter in his family’s postal slot. I could have. I was employed when he got the notice.

What happened as I read his book? I was there with Mike as he endured tough training….I landed with him in Viet Nam where a batch of glazy-eyed Marines were leaving, only to have one of them thread through the ranks and pick out Mike to give him a ring—a ring that the Marine said saved his life, a ring Mike still wears.

I noted the foxhole that blew up and killed a fellow soldier shortly after Mike left it; I saw the killer cobra stare fixedly at Mike, in the cave, until a mouse distracted it; I knew the power of the prayer beads.

The stunner for me? It could have been me going through all this.  If not for my gender (women didn’t fight in combat during this period) and the fact I was a college student, I could have been in those jungles, suffering those hardships—the  terrible psychological and physical trauma from which many never recovered.

If they did come home, many were mortally wounded in other ways, never fully recovering.

I could have been West Warwick’s Mike Montigny.

Just another foot soldier in a very foreign land.

If not for fate.

Mike speaks of the time that he, as uniformed soldier, came home aboard a commercial airliner and the captain invited him to sit in 1st class, as means of thanking him for his service. When other passengers balked  (Viet Nam was in disfavor,) he moved to the back of the plane. Today, he notes the far different tenor of the country that sees young people at the beach who see his Marines tattoo on his arm honor him for his service of many years ago.

Today, this former Vice President of Human Resources, Amtrol has a message he delivers. It’s important. Instead of focusing on the terrible things he had to overcome, he notes the positives…the wonders…the forces…the ‘angels’ that led him out and protected him. One he highlights as most instrumental? His wife of many years—Sandra (Boutello) Montigny who saw him through many dark times following Viet Nam, times that precipitated his giving up both drinking and smoking.

Is his message finding fertile soil?

Well, if audience size determines likelihood of success, Mike is already a best-selling author. At Valley Country Club, where Mike had a recent book signing, his crowd swelled to 150. Why was he at this particular venue? He is a a member there and current vice-president. In September, this new author became president of Rhode Island Golf Association. That sizeable group, coupled with his many friends from his former employment at Amtrol, and countless others he’s helped through his life, insure he has a loyal fan base.

I know—I’m one of his admiring fans.marine_mike mike-montigny-with-rifle


***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current resident..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island.