By Marjorie Monteleon
In memory of:
Corporal Ronald William Monteleon
Corporal Preston Brian Nietz
The purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. To remember those who lost their lives and could not come home. Perhaps we do it with flags on head stones or with flowers on a grave or even by attending a parade. Maybe even, if appropriate, and not too painful, by asking a veteran who they would like to remember. Be careful with that last suggestion, as reminding them of those lost in combat may be very traumatic.
My late husband was one of those who returned from the front lines of Korea with no physical wounds; however, he was full of PTSD, which eventually could not be contained.
I met my husband in 1984 in Bar Harbor. He was here from Michigan to photograph Acadia National Park. We both were professional photographers and went on to do postcard and calendar work for several companies.
During our early years together, my husband, who was a quiet man, would, on rare occasions, start talking about his experience in Korea. The stories were horrific to me as I had no idea what dreadful things had occurred. We, the public, were not informed about what these men, some of whom were so young, had endured. He didn’t tell these stories often, but it must have been when the horrors surfaced and needed to be told to a trusted ear.
One story was about being with fellow soldiers in a foxhole that was hit directly by incoming mortar just as my husband had removed his helmet to scratch his itchy head. You think he would forget that?
Or the time his commanding officer wanted to show my husband something with the 57 recoilless my husband carried. The officer took it and, against all protocols, fired at the enemy during a lull. Return fire was spot on, and he was also blown up right next to my husband. You don’t forget that!
Then there were the children who swarmed continually into my husband’s camp looking for food as their families could no longer farm due to the war, thus no food.
Or both sides running out of bullets and your only way to survive was to fight the other side with shovels. Imagine remembering the men you killed with a shovel!
Then there was the time his platoon rousted a bunch of enemy soldiers out of a small cabin–like bunker at one point. One of the Americans went into the bunker to see if there was anything to salvage. While he was in there, he heard the enemy soldiers returning so he hid under a bunk with one of the weapons they had left behind. As they returned, he killed them all, and was later photographed by my husband holding that very gun. I saw that photo.
Think of the damage to all these men who were doing things they would be arrested for if they did them back home. Think about the bodies of all their fellow soldiers they had to remove! The constant fear and trauma! Gentle young men now faced with these gruesome scenes every day. What did it do to their consciences?
There is a photo album my husband made of black and white photos during his time in Korea. The writings on the back of many photos give the name of the young soldier and his death day. That does not go away.
So life went well for us for some time until my oldest son from my first marriage, a Cold War veteran, shot himself in 1993 due to his own PTSD. He and my husband were close. My husband was the father, and friend, my son had always wanted, and together they built the second floor on our house, where I still reside. My husband’s only child, his son, was killed by a reckless driver in 1980, four years before he met me. Then to have my son, and fellow veteran, shoot himself was inconceivable to my husband. It opened doors he had bolted shut.
I was gradually falling apart trying to cope with my loss, as my husband was also trying to cope with the loss of my son, all the while having his own PTSD really rear its ugly head with a vengeance. The night terrors got worse and worse. He would start flailing in his sleep, hitting, kicking and awakening me over and over.
My husband could not understand this as he consciously did not believe he had PTSD. Later when he was in Michigan tending to his ailing stepmother, he called me and very apologetically said, “Now I believe you. I was dreaming about the war and kicked the wall so hard I almost broke my foot.”
Later, the PTSD awakened him to the point he got out of bed fighting and kicking, then fell, smashing his face on the nightstand since he was actually dreaming. By this time, he understood it was war related.
My husband died at the age of 80, in 2010, still suffering from those night terrors created by our government’s never–ending wars. He preferred this area because it was quiet and far from the chaos the Korean War left in his soul. He would likewise be horrified to know that the Korean war that so scarred his psyche has not ended.
He would have nothing to do with any veterans’ organizations, no VFW, no veteran license plate, and kept away from anything that reminded him of any war. He did, however, contribute to nonprofits that were supposedly helping veterans until we found out they were mostly scams. He literally cried as I read him the report from a Congressional hearing exposing the very organization he thought was helping veterans with his contributions.
Here in Maine, Bath Iron Works still turns out huge war ships for the Navy to cause more destruction, with billions of dollars continuing to flow to it while the veterans of all wars are denied health care, earned benefits or even a place to live. In another ironic twist, one of my husband’s well–published photos was of Bath Iron Works silhouetted in a glorious sunset.
Now as to memorials, my son’s name is inscribed on the War Memorial erected in Medway where he grew up. My husband’s name is inscribed on the Maine Korean War Memorial walkway in Bangor.
Marjorie Monteleon lives in Southwest Harbor.