When you live with someone the better part of a year, you become attached. It was that way with a cadre of Armenian Catholic priests, some toting white beards with a stately presence.
It was also evident with two traveling colleagues—Aram Karibian (Cranston, R.I.) and Kenny Maloomian (Needham, Mass.). We were all teenagers headed for Vienna to broaden our Armenian skills under the tutelage of these priests, looking to pave inroads for others of our kind to visit and study at the Mekhitarist Motherhouse.
Being the oldest of the three, I was somewhat responsible for the welfare of my companions. The bond we established over this period in 1960 remained cohesive. We studied together, socialized together, and gained each other’s trust. If someone was short on cash, it was usually Kenny who opened his wallet.
After splitting company, I returned to Boston University, changing my major from accounting to journalism. Aram wound up as a university educator. Kenny surprised us all. He became a highly decorated war veteran in Vietnam.
Not that it surprised me. Based upon his demeanor inside the monastery, I would have predicted something a bit more daring. He was the type who had nothing to fear, not even fear itself.
His life was cut short at age 39 of a pulmonary embolism. He had spent the last eight years as a house builder in Florida. Few knew of his military exploits until his death. He preferred it that way.
I still picture him hunched over an Armenian grammar book, trying to make some sense of the alphabet and language. He wanted to make his family and church proud.
A year prior to his demise, he underwent coronary bypass surgery from respiratory problems that followed his service in the war.
His highest marks in life came with the awards and decorations he had received from heroism in combat—the Bronze Star (with cluster) and the Purple Heart after being wounded several times.
According to Carl Hagopian, his former commanding officer in the Massachusetts National Guard, the awards came after he had saved the lives of many GIs, including allied officers.
溺aloomian was one of the first tunnel rats,・ Hagopian recalled. 典he Viet-Cong had a network of tunnels and the Army’s Corps of Engineers formed a team that went into those tunnels and blew them up. Kenny captured many of those in there.”
The Bronze Star came after Kenny saved 40 Australian soldiers. In 1967, he received another citation when he was in a medivac helicopter crash and pulled passengers out, including three wounded men.
So decorated was he, Kenny received 12 other medals and decorations, some from the government of South Vietnam. He was finally discharged after 13 months as a captain with the Army Rangers and Green Berets.
Kenny started working in the family cleaning business after graduating from Needham High School and soon found himself pursuing an inner call. Only after his death did I learn the real truth about him. He had joined our mission because he truly yearned to become a Mekhitarist priest.
According to his family, he wanted to become a monk.
Nobody took it seriously. The mere mention of it drew snickers from us. We were there to advance our Armenian knowledge, not prepare ourselves for ordination. Not take vows of chastity and poverty. Not live a relatively cloistered lifestyle.
As for being prepared under obedience to go on missions, Kenny was rearing to go. He was like a caged tiger ready to spring loose, as I recall. And for that reason, he had been a favorite of the Mekhitarist seminarians—an American bent on adventure.
However, it didn’t work out for him like so many others who preceded and followed this man. And so, he joined the Massachusetts National Guard’s 241st Engineer Battalion and off to Vietnam he went, meant for heroism.
No doubt, that one year at the monastery gave him a sense of discipline. And it helped blaze a trail for other students like him to mold their individual character.
For that, he will always be remembered.