National Catholic Register

Commentary

Mary and the Marines

BY John C. Goodrich

May 20-26, 2001 Issue | Posted 5/20/01 at 2:00 AM

 

I was thrilled when I read the article about Michael Lambert in the May 6-12 issue of your wonderful paper (“The Hand of Mary: A Marine's Encounter in a Bloody Battle”). Several months ago I met a former U.S. Marine who could relate a story to you that I think you would be also be very interested to publish.

His name is Rocco Nasiatka. He works for the Groton Utilities Department in the water-treatment plant in Groton, Connecticut. I met Rocco when I took a water sample to be tested at the lab where he is employed as a porter. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines at age 17, and he was in combat in Vietnam at 18. He said he was raised as a Catholic, but his faith was weak. In the Marines he stopped going to church. He related to me how he lived like an “animal” for months and that his only thought was day-to-day survival. He said he even scoffed at Catholics who wore rosaries or scapulars around their necks, thinking that it would not do them any good.

He was assigned to an M-60 machine gun, a weapon with which he had had no prior training. He was lying prone on the ground exchanging gunfire with Viet Cong soldiers when he was hit in both hands, sustaining especially severe wounds to his left hand. He said the only thing that saved him from being killed was the flak jacket he was wearing. Because of the heavy fighting, it was a full day before a rescue helicopter could evacuate him to a field hospital.

At some point he had a vision of Mary, an experience he related in a way that captivated and fascinated me. Although the doctors told him that he would be permanently disabled, he now uses the hands that were so badly mangled to make exquisitely beautiful rosary beads. He has great devotion to Mary and he gave me three sets of the handmade rosaries as a gift. When I left, I thanked him and told him that I was happy to have had the chance to meet him. He replied quietly, “Nothing happens by chance.”

JOHN C. GOODRICH Mystic, Connecticut