Service and sacrifice
Meet four Legates who heroically served their country in the U.S. Army
The best job ever, a chance to work with a rare breed of people, and an opportunity to serve as well as cultivate qualities needed to succeed in the business world.
That’s how four Legates who served in the U.S. Army describe their military experience. All returned home to build successful civilian careers in business and law, although one — Manny Montanez of the Orange Coast Chapter — did so with the added challenge of combat wounds that left him unable to walk for a year.
Still, Montanez and his fellow legate veterans speak positively today of what they learned in the Army, and they want others to know the benefits of military service.
God and country
For Anthony DeToto, a member of Legatus’ Houston Chapter, the decision to accept a scholarship to West Point landed him “the greatest job ever — besides being a dad.” Having served from 1991 to 1997 as a platoon leader and company commander, DeToto said he sees “the profession of arms” as a calling and considered it a privilege to be entrusted with American lives.
Retired Major General Walter Zink of the Lincoln Chapter — and a member of Legatus’ board of governors —served in the Army National Guard. Although many people view a military career as inconvenient, disruptive, or without value, Zink said his experience was the opposite. “I got to serve with great people and developed attributes that have helped me with everyday life and my business life.”
John Roth, a member of Legatus’ Savannah Chapter, who retired as a major general after 40 years of service, fell in love with the Army after growing up as the son of a colonel.
“The people who served with me and who I went to college with at West Point are, in my opinion, a breed above. They are dedicated, committed and willing to sacrifice. I was impressed by that and still am today, so I stayed in and made it a career.”
Montanez, a Purple Heart recipient, enlisted in the Army during the Vietnam War in response to President John F. Kennedy’s moving words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” In 1967, he and two buddies marched down to the recruiter’s office and said they wanted to serve their country.
And serve they did. One never made it back. Montanez was wounded in combat on Jan. 8, 1969, and nearly lost his right leg. He underwent multiple surgeries and rehabilitation before regaining the ability to walk, receiving a medical discharge in 1971.
Grace under fire
Montanez’s story is the most dramatic of the four Legates, but these men all share a devotion to the Catholic faith they said sustained them during their time of service.
As he lay wounded and bleeding on that fateful day in 1969 with a rosary in his possession, Montanez remembered how, as a seventh grader, he had asked his teacher why they went to Mass on the first Friday of each month and why they prayed the rosary so often. She told him, “Mr. Montanez, you will never die without a priest around.”
“I reached deep down and leaned on Our Lord and said, ‘You promised me through Sr. Rose that I would not die without a priest to administer my Last Rites,’” recalled Montanez, who was hired in June as director of Legatus’ West Region.
Montanez suffered injuries to both legs when a rocket-propelled grenade struck him. He was inside a tank when he was hit, but earlier, in the midst of enemy fire, had left the vehicle so he could signal the operator to get a thrown track back onto its sprocket. In addition to the Purple Heart, he was later awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.
Montanez believes he survived combat and his wounds so he could share his experience and evangelize others throughout his life.
Today, Montanez is able to walk five miles every morning, but not without pain and a limp. After his right leg was mangled, he lost about eight inches of the fibula. The injuries to his left leg required insertion of a plastic artery.
“The pain reminds me of the fact that I still have my legs and some non-evident scars,” Montanez said. “Some of those things are just part of life’s experiences.”
Faith and focus
Although DeToto wasn’t injured in combat, he said he also relied on his faith — particularly in 1993 when he was in charge of 500 Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who were clearing minefields along Kuwait’s northern border. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, he said, “there are no atheists in the minefields.
“Whenever you’re going through something more stressful,” he continued, “I think you turn to other sources for strength. And [faith] was the healthiest source to turn to.” DeToto said he found himself going to Mass more often and making sure he made time to pray and to carry a scapular or a rosary.
“Once you’re out in the field and you know you’re going to go in a minefield every day, it makes you step back and contemplate your faith differently,” he said.
Roth served on the ground in the Vietnam War and commanded more than 16,000 soldiers during the Gulf War.
“In the military, you have to make a lot of rough decisions, and to make them you sometimes put a lot of other people’s lives in danger,” he explained. “It’s part of the job and part of the task. It was my strong belief in God that gave me the strength to do that, but in a manner that gave the people under my command the best chance of success.
“It made me focused on making sure all the pieces fit and we picked the best option to get as many home free without injury as best we could. Faith focuses me in not only doing the job, but living the gospel at the same time.”
For Zink, who was called up for four deployments to Iraq during his 38 years in the National Guard, faith also was a factor.
“It gave me a sense of values — not just civilian military values, but moral values, what is right and wrong. There’s an expression in the military: ‘It’s easy to do the right thing when people are looking; it’s hard to do the right thing when nobody’s around.’ I think faith and the values that came from Catholic principles and foundations were very helpful in that respect.”
Zink said it’s important for soldiers to see that their leaders have faith-based principles. “In a lot of respects, younger soldiers are hungering for a direction in life and to see leaders who say it’s OK to have faith and still do the things we have to do.”
Sadly, the U.S. military is less friendly to people of faith today than when the Legates interviewed for this article served. Several said that military personnel with whom they are in contact have indicated that they’re under greater constraints when it comes to expressing their faith openly.
DeToto said he worries that there is a secular push to restrict Catholicism to the 90 minutes soldiers are in chapel on Sunday. Others spoke of a trend toward diminished religious activity through cuts in resources and funding.
Zink said Legates could help the troops by praying for them and by encouraging elected representatives to allow the free exercise of religion in the armed forces.
Civilians could also help discharged and reserve military by encouraging employers to hire them. Veterans, Zink added, bring discipline, motivation, punctuality, focus on mission and an understanding of teamwork to the workplace.
DeToto recommended giving “a hand-up instead of a handout” by mentoring veterans through groups like The Mission Continues, Commit Foundation, and NextOp.
His volunteer efforts include showing veterans how to “demilitarize” their resumes and mentoring them through the “green to gray” transition by preparing them for job interviews and assisting them with educational applications.
Montanez, who does similar work through Hire a Patriot, said it’s important to remember that, just as soldiers in the Vietnam era struggled because they were in the jungle one day and on the streets the next, so those coming home today need help transitioning back into society.
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.