Vet saw effects of Vietnam

Tribune Chronicle / Marly Kosinski David MonteCalvo of Bazetta spent his Navy career from 1970 to 1974 stateside during the Vietnam era, serving first as a hospitalman in the thoracic plastic surgery unit at St. Albans Naval Hospital in New York.

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.

BAZETTA — David MonteCalvo said he joined the U.S. Navy so he could travel and see the world.

“I wanted the excitement. I wanted to get out of dodge,” MonteCalvo, 63, said.

He was born in Santa Monica, Calif., and lived in Warren from 1955 to 1968 before moving to Niles and graduating from Howland High School in 1970. He signed up for the Navy five months after graduation, following in the footsteps of his father, also a Navy veteran who served in the Mediterranean during the Korean War.

But MonteCalvo’s world travels were not meant to be. He spent his Navy career from 1970 to 1974 stateside during the Vietnam era, serving as a hospitalman in the thoracic plastic surgery unit at St. Albans Naval Hospital in New York, where he prepared and dispensed medications, cleaned and dressed wounds, and monitored medical records.

MonteCalvo said many of the patients in that unit were soldiers who lost limbs or had severe burns from stepping on land mines in Vietnam.

“There were a lot of amputees,” he said. “I remember one guy coming in who was on a helicopter and the North Vietnamese shot a missile that went through the chopper, through the lead box he was sitting on, entered his back and came out his groin.”

MonteCalvo said the soldier survived, but he had permanent damage from the incident.

He said he stayed in the unit for “one year and one day” before asking to be reassigned.

“It was depressing working there. These guys were the same age as me, some a few years older or younger,” MonteCalvo said.

He said he wrestled with feelings of both guilt that he was not in Vietnam fighting and gratefulness that he was one of the lucky ones.

Wanting to learn something new, MonteCalvo worked as an on-the-job psychiatric technician and the Navy sent him to neuropsychiatric school in Philadelphia in 1972. He worked in a psychiatric unit, where some of the patients in the ward were Marines fresh out of basic training.

“When people say Marine basic training will make you or break you, they are not kidding,” MonteCalvo said.

Other patients were soldiers from Vietnam with post traumatic stress disorder or opiate addictions from injuries received in combat.

“A lot of those guys had seen their friends get killed in ‘Nam. It really messed them up,” he said.

After his stint in the Navy ended, he worked as a janitor for Howland Schools, using the G.I. Bill to attend Youngstown State University and graduate from Kent State University, where he majored in telecommunications.

“I minored in philosophy and religious studies because I wanted to work in Christian radio,” MonteCalvo said.

He did work for a year at WNIO 1390 AM Radio in Youngstown in 1979, writing commercials, operating a tower and serving as an on-air personality.

He got hired at Copperweld Steel in early 1981 and was laid off by November of that year. He started doing landscaping, freelance photography, and setting up and tearing down aquariums at professional offices.

He joined the Army Reserve in 1986, hoping to get commissioned as a warrant officer, but that did not pan out and he got out after two years. He did hospitalman duties as part of the 693rd Maintenance Battalion based in Ravenna.

“My unit went to Iraq, but I had just gotten out and I did not have to go,” MonteCalvo said.

While in the Reserve, he became a chaplain’s assistant, which enabled him to write and deliver sermons, set up for services and provide chaplain support.

He was hired by the U.S. Postal Service in 1985 and retired as a supervisor from the Niles Post Office in December 2014.

“I never really used my telecommunications degree, but my education taught me how to communicate with people, and that is a skill I used all my life,” MonteCalvo said.

He had a kidney transplant in June 2015 after waiting five years on three different organ donation lists.

David MonteCalvo

• AGE: 63

• HOMETOWN: Bazetta

• OCCUPATION: Retired from U.S. Postal Service in Niles

• SERVICE BRANCH: U.S. Navy, 1970-74; U.S. Army Reserve, 1986-88

• MILITARY HONORS: Army Achievement Award, Good Conduct Medal

•¨FAMILY: one son and one grandson, 3, of Howland