Remembering the Mekhitarists—50 Years Later (Part 7)

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.

Three seminarians are ordained into the priesthood in 1960 at the Vienna Mekhitarist Church.

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.

Archbishop Mesrop Habozian, left, abbot general of the Vienna Mekhitarist Congregation in 1960, celebrates Mass. Among his duties, writer Tom Vartabedian served Mass for him each day as a deacon.

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.

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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9 Comments

  1. I am humbled by the wartime valor of Kenny Maloomian.  Oh what General Antranik could have done with this ‘one man army’!

    And speaking of ‘Antranik’ my mother and her cousins the Callian family of NYC, were from his birthplace, Shabin-Karahissar.  I grew up singing his war cry! 

    My aunt Ardemis recounted her childhood memory of the “The Fall of the Aerie”.  At one point during the battle the defenders were running out of water from the cisterns inside the fort.  The only water was from the old Roman cistern outside the walls.  She was given the dangerous task of getting water under gunfire.  She was told because she was small and could run fast the bullets would not find their target.  And they were right!

  2. Dear Mr. Vartabedian:
    If I am not mistaken the seminarian on the left is Father Boghos Kodjanian, the current Abbott of the Vienna Monastery. Also the priest giving the blessing seems to be him also (most probably during his ordination).
    Nurhan Becidyan

  3. This article was extremely beautiful and impacting to me, as Kenneth Maloomian was my uncle. Unfortunately I was born after his death and never had the opportunity to meet this amazing man. My entire life I’ve been told of his brilliant energy, radiating heart, and permeating spirit, and this article truly summed that up. Mr. Vartabedian, thank you for writing this and sharing your personal accounts of my uncle. My family so very much appreciates this!

  4. Dear Mr. Vartabedian,

    I have read through your series of articles about your personal experiences at the Mekhitarist Monastary.  What an amazing experience to live through, to reminesce over, and now, 50 years later, to share these experiences with other Armenians today.  I am so grateful to read about your experiences and your accounts honoring my late uncle, Kenneth Maloomian.  There is not a day that passes my family and I do not miss him; he had a vivacious spirit with a gentle heart, my one and only!!!   
    Thank you so very much, from the bottom of my heart! 
    Es el hay em, H’bard eam,
    Sandra Maloomian  
     

    • Sandra send me a email I lived at 41 mellen street just down from larry’s and Kenny house we moved away in 1960 i’m 72 and if your interested I can tell you some great stories about kenny

    • I to have enjoyed this series. My father was Larry, (Carle I am sure you remember!) and he often tells the story of Kenny going ‘on the church mission’ and being sent for by their grandmother’s maid from the home in Armenia when he got to Lebanon. Dad had so many good times with Kenneth (that is what he always refers to him as) and always gets a chuckle and that glow in his eye when telling stories of their youthful antics like he is watching it unfold again. Cheers to all!

  5. I did time with Ken at Cape Cod Community College. He was amazing in so many ways. Ken was positive, expressive, engaging, articulate, funny, caring, and kept his private pain to himself. Since he was a roommate, I got to hear his anguish late at night, when nightmares resulted in some loud, pained sleep-talk. I was very innocent at that time, and was enormously jealous of his allure to women. He had more girlfriends than I could even imagine. I would plead with him to teach me how he did it, and he would impart little pearls of wisdom, but they only worked for him. He had a charm and confidence that were seductive. I had nothing but fear. Memories of his ribald and unrivaled daily adventures pop into my mind and entertain me to this day. He was enormously appealing to women, for sure, but not just women. He had a whole cadre of friends of both genders (we used to be able to say “sexes”, but that’s probably not Politically Correct any more. Ken would have had fun with that notion.)
    Ken’s wedding introduced me to Armenian culture. From that warm insight, I later met an Armenian woman to whom I was enormously attracted, though to this day I can’t say if it was her persona or her culture as first presented to me by Ken that most appealed to me. We dated for a while, and I still regret that I never got to introduce her to Ken. I so valued his judgement that I would have liked to hear his impressions of her. Perhaps I’d still be with her if he thought positively about her? He was far and away the single most impressive, memorable, and positive person I interacted with through my entire stay on the Cape, and indeed quite a while beyond.

  6. I was a tunnel rat in Vietnam and I am putting together a history of the unit. I wonder if you could put me in touch with some close members of Lt. Kenneth Maloomian.

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