Can you imagine being drafted as a teenager to fight in a war – facing death numerous times – only to finally come home to a family who thought you were already dead as part of a long-fulfilled prophecy? If you find it difficult to imagine, you’ll have to read the true story all about it.
Each November the Saint David’s on-the-Hill book club welcomes a local author to their book club. This month’s special guest was Michael A. Montigny, author of “A Few Good Angels.” Montigny resides in Coventry and was born and raised in West Warwick. He is a veteran, having fought in the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Marines, after he was drafted at the age of 19. Montigny arrived at St. David’s with his wife Sandy, to whom he has been married for 46 years.
Montigny’s book chronicles the many ways in which he believes that more than coincidence saved his life while he was fighting in the war, and as he began, he told the audience of a prophecy his mother was told when he was young.
“When my mother was young, she had polio. She had nine brothers and sisters and she used to watch them play. One day her mother heard of a fortune teller and she asked the fortune teller to come and entertain my mother,” he said. “The fortune teller told her that if she gave up something she loved, she would walk. My mother gave up chocolate and she lay on the floor with her rosary. Four months later, she walked. The fortune teller had also told her several other things: she would have three children, two girls and one boy, and that the boy would go off to war in a foreign country and never return.”
Montigny was that boy, but the fortune teller’s prophecy was always kept from him, although the other things the fortune teller had told his mother had all come true. In 1965 he was drafted and joined the Marines. As he and his fellow graduates prepared to leave, his commanding officer told them all to look around because, of those 21 soldiers, only half were likely to return. As a machine gunner, statistics showed Montigny as having a life expectancy of 15 minutes in Vietnam.
“We flew to Danang and as the trucks were coming to take us away we passed 200 guys who were coming home. They were dirty, dehydrated and they had the 2,000-yard stare that went right through you,” he said. “As they passed by, one of them fought his way through the crowd and gave me a ring. I didn’t know him and wondered, ‘Why me?’”
The ring resembled a class ring but had no identifying information on it that could connect him to the person who had given it to him. However, he would later consider that soldier to be one of the angels who helped to keep him safe during his time in Vietnam.
In the first five months Montigny was in Vietnam, he escaped death at least nine times and spoke about near-death experiences involving run-ins with a rat, a King Cobra snake, a scorpion, three gorillas, a sniper and even a fall from a cliff.
“The first time, I thought it was luck,” he said.
The more he considered his circumstances, however, he realized there may have been more than luck at work, and yet he still wasn’t aware of his mother’s prophecy from her childhood fortune.
While in Vietnam, Montigny had another chance encounter with one of his angels, a chaplain who unexpectedly pulled him out of a crowd of 1,100 other soldiers, presenting him with a set of prayer beads, which he said would help to keep him safe any time he was in trouble.
All told, Montigny ran into “trouble” of the death-defying type 13 times while in Vietnam and twice while at Camp Lejeune.
However, upon his return home, Montigny didn’t speak much about his stories and his near-death experiences because the warm welcome he was expecting after being away at war was not the welcome he received.
“I was flying standby on May 7,” he said. “It’s not like it is now, where if they see you they put you at the front of the line. I was the last person called. I was put in the last seat on the plane, near the restroom. When the pilot said he wanted to honor me with a seat in first class, a young man who was flying with his wife and two small children challenged my being there and everyone in first class threatened to leave if I didn’t leave, so I went back to the back of the plane and when I did, everyone applauded.”
When Montigny arrived at TF Green Airport, there was no one to greet him there.
“There wasn’t a soul waiting in the airport for me,” he said. “When I called home there was no answer, so I called a cab to take me home, thinking that there must be a surprise party at the house.”
Walking into his house, Montigny’s surprised his mother, who passed out on the floor on her face, shocked to see him. His father, who had been painting in the kitchen on a ladder, suffered a heart attack from the shock.
“It turns out, none of my letters from Okinawa had arrived home, they all thought I was dead, because of the prophecy,” he said.
Despite the fact that his family threw him a party a couple of days later, Montigny was surprised by the overall lack of respect he received upon his return.
“People looked at me with disgust, no one listened to my story, and eventually I just kept my uniform off,” he said. “I didn’t talk about it, and I didn’t know about all the protesting that had taken place because the only newspapers we saw were the ‘Stars and Stripes’ newspaper.”
It wasn’t until much later, after working for years in a civilian job, Montigny met several individuals who heard his stories and encouraged him to talk about his two angels, and all that he’d experienced as a soldier.
“I wrote 56 stories about how my life was saved,” he said. “Was it luck or was it coincidence?”
Montigny believes that he had angels watching over him and when he shares his stories, his audiences and readers agree.
“I’ve spoken to high school students, to veterans. When I speak everyone pays attention and they hug me, thank me, tell me that they have more appreciation for what happened in Vietnam,” he said. “We’ve had letters sent to our home from parents who say, ‘I don’t know what you said, but it had an impact.’”
Montigny has had the opportunity to meet former protestors who have read his book.
“I’ve had some tell me that they wish now that they’d prayed for me, rather than protested,” he said. “The veterans I meet appreciate my stories very much.”
Montigny has shared additional stories beyond his book on his website: afewgoodangels.com, and has just one goal for his book and website.
“I’m not in this to make money, I’m in it to share my story,” he said.