Makers of Dreams:The 33rd Jump

Too often, it seems, it is the dreams we dream in youth that become the unfulfilled regrets we bear later on in life. I had always dreamed of being a paratrooper and I was blessed, even for a brief time to wear the mantle of awesome responsibility that comes from such a calling. The writer, George Orwell, perfectly summed it up in this quote:

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

And though, looking back I was just a kid at the time, I was a paratrooper and I was there when I was needed.

Long before I wore the silver wings of the airborne, I dreamed them into existence in my youth. Moreover, as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division I have been doubly blessed in my life to meet the heroes I read of in the books of my youth. Men like the incomparable General Matthew Ridgway, the one-time commander of the 82nd Airborne; the quiet yet unassuming First Sergeant, Leonard Funk—winner of the Medal of Honor; and the ever humble Chaplain George Woods—when I met him while recuperating in the hospital at Fort Sam Houston in 1983, he told me first hand of the gruesome spectacle of the massacre of the troopers who jumped into to the town square at St. Mere Eglise France on the night of June 6th, 1944. These and more did I meet.

What does one say when one of one’s most treasured dreams are about to come true? In my case at the tandem jump this last Saturday at Skydive Spaceland in Houston, nothing. I had to take in all of the the moment and promised I would save the eloquence for later. This is not to say that I did not think big thoughts—of those, I can assure you there were plenty. What I simply needed was to put some space between these affairs of the earth and spend a few brief moments soaring the heavens.

There have been times during these twenty-seven years since Operation Urgent Fury that I have been the recipient of pity. Although, at no time did a solicit it nor will I ever, it comes. It comes sometimes in the most unusual and unexpected places. The accompanying pathos over the physical loss I find very hard to endure because to me the most heartrending loss was what could not be seen. The loss of my limbs I could endure with steadfast resolution. Not being able to jump again hurt most of all my wounds.

Somewhere above the clouds on the way down it all becomes clear to me. Here I have assembled before me on this most perfect of days was a cast of characters most noble and treasured above all. These were the makers of dream. In another time and place the muses would have compelled the poets to dream such men into existence. There was Joe Sansone before me, ostensibly the CEO of TMC Orthopedics and founder of Limbs of Love. What do you say to a man who offers hope where none have ever existed? All I could offer was a most joyous smile a most heartfelt thank you and my hand in friendship and vow to live up to the trust you have placed in me.

Jean-Luc Nash was there with me that October day in Grenada twenty seven years ago when it all went horribly wrong. Timothy Andruss was there too with Jean-Luc. Their bravery and their quick actions gave me a chance at survival. These two men were the real heroes that day—they know I know this, though it is doubtful you will ever hear them own up to their incredible exploits. These two and many others whose names I will never know made the dream possible. We are brothers bound by the sacred bonds of battle.

Don Mooney, Jean-Luc’s West Point classmate and best friend was there too. Don, I owe you more than I can ever repay for your advocacy on my behalf. You I consider a facilitator of the dream. Congratulations on your sixth jump my friend, I know it has been a longer time coming than my last. Relish it always!

What can be said about the incomparable world record parachutist Jay Stokes? You sir are an honored knight of the sky and and a treasure to the airborne brotherhood. I consider it an honor to have served the same battalion that you once served. My only regret is that we had not met sooner. Your professionalism and attention to detail are a tremendous credit to you and your profession. Thank you my newfound friend for granting me this most sacred and treasured wish.

To my loving wife, Ginny and children: Sebastian, Chloe, and Lucienne; who know all my best stories by heart I owe the finest of what I am to you. You too have borne my dreams and are always there to make sure I live up to them. Lucie, my hope is one day you will understand the importance of us taking your  teddy bear on the jump with us. Not many little girls  can say their bear jumped from 14,000 feet!

One other was present that most perfect day. I carry his memory in my heart each and every moment. Sergeant Sean Luketina was there. He was there and he was remembered well and fondly. He is a spiritual light. Somewhere between heaven and earth you will find him. Those of us who lived that day twenty seven years ago cannot forget this brave trooper of the Signal Corps. I keep a framed picture of him. Sean is talking on a radio and if on one day somewhere amongst clouds and the sky, if you listen closely you will hear the message he is broadcasting.

Hardcore Harry

How’s Your Ischial Tuberosity?

My darling wife has brought it to my attention on numerous occasions these last couple weeks that I have not been writing as much as I should in my blog. Incidentally, I was not aware that the word nag was of Scandinavian origin. Think about it. It was the persistent action of the womenfolk back in Scandinavia that led to one of the greatest invasions in all of history!! What probably started out with a blond, vivacious, buxom, Scandinavian goddess, we’ll call her Helga, complaining that her man, Thor, had left his chain mail and sword on the kitchen table again and why is it he could never pick the lid up on the slit trench??? So it was with the shrill echo of the lovely Helga still ringing in his ears reminding poor Thor that the thatch roof needed repairing, and that they were about to run out of moose burgers, that the Vikings set off to engage in an all out war of conquest. (The Viking’s must have looked to the sanctuary of the longship much like Homer Simpson eyes a box of glazed donuts!) Helga was to eventually be bought off with a few shiny trinkets of booty from far away lands and Thor was able to get a group of monks in a monastery write a revisionist history—in exchange for their lives–that covered up Thor’s shortcomings as a husband!

This last week marked my first full week of physical therapy. Slowly along the way I am being re-introduced to the peculiar language of the physical therapist. One of my favorite questions is: “How is your is your ischial tuberosity?” Or, “Is your prosthesis bearing weight on your tuberosity?” No doubt some of my more curious readers were sent scampering away toward yonder bookshelf upon reading that—we’ll call this category reader the more distinguished scholars amongst us: that being the reader who has books that they actually read; books that do more than prop up the shorter leg of the kitchen table that the darling wife with her persistent ministrations caused the reader to “fix” himself rather than call a skilled tradesman. Never underestimate the value of a feeling of self-sufficiency however sad or misplaced!!

Now, that the rest of you lazy bastages have finished looking up the words on Google we can continue!

The ischial tuberosity is quite a common set of protrusions that will be instantly familiar with anyone who has ridden a horse for any length of time. Being “saddle sore” and having a pain in your ischial tuberosity are the same thing! Now there are a great many feelings and sensations that accompany a person such as myself who has not walked in 26+ years that are pretty dang cool: shopping for shoes, standing, and, taking first steps. Trust me when I tell you that remembering that you have an ischial tuberosity IS NOT ONE OF THESE SUPER-DOOPER COOL BEANS (RE)DISCOVERIES!!!

So there I was a saddle sore trooper and nary a horse in sight! It was then that I remembered that I had just turned 48 and thought that this kind of physical endeavor would have been easier 20 some years ago had only the technology been available. It was then that I remind myself that if it were easy then everybody would do it and dang if I can’t help the challenge!!

After all of this, a funny thing happened Thursday afternoon. It was while standing up on my C Legs that I knew right then and there that this was actually going to happen! It was then that balance didn’t seem all that hard a thing to achieve and for the first time I was able to stand without powering through with my upper body. Up until then walking again was something I had imagined in my mind. It was then something I knew with the rest of my body.

My wife Ginny was there too, smiling. For now she didn’t care that my underwear drawer was full of assorted books, half finished journals, and the odd box or ten of ammunition. “Stand up straight! Look straight ahead! Quit looking at your shoes! One more!”

I love her!

 

Hardcore Harry

MAKE IT HAPPEN–MAKE IT REAL

There is a sign that hangs in my house that has a great deal of significance. It reads, “MAKE IT HAPPEN.” My wife and I bought the sign at the Buc-ees just outside of Houston on Highway 59 on May 10th after the initial assessment at the Amputee and Prosthetic Center. It has become the mantra which drives me forward in my goal to walk again. The phrase is also engraved on the back of a Saint Michael’s Medallion I wear, a gift from my wife Ginny. Saint Michael is the patron saint of paratroopers for those of you who are not in the know!

During the events of the last week, the phrase “Make it Happen” has served me well. The attention the event generated in the television media was exiting but it is important to keep everything in perspective and in proportion. Even now, it is hard to comprehend just where everything fits. I had an idea beforehand of the level of commitment that the folks at TMC Orthopedics and the Amputee and Prosthetic Center had to the amputee community. What I had not realized until later in the week was the degree that they had mobilized on my behalf. It was extremely humbling to find out that the turn around on my new legs had never before been achieved. It was only seventy-two hours from first fitting to final product. In order for this to happen it took a great many unnamed dedicated and professional individuals giving their all to see that my legs were ready on time. I am deeply moved by the level of effort that everyone put forward on my behalf. From Joe Sansone the CEO of TMC Orthopedic to the technicians at the Amputee and Prosthetic Center, you all simply rock! It was with a heavy heart that we left Houston this week for our journey home, we have made new friends and acquired a new branch of our family so to speak!

Getting the legs was the easy part, learning to use them is where the real work for me begins. This is where the sense of perspective and proportion will come in handy. It occurred to me that the catchwords, “Make It Happen” that have carried me thus far on this journey need a re-clarification of sorts to bring them up to date. Now it is time for me to make real on my dreams to walk again. Cameras and reporters do not make things like this happen. These happen because of what is in your heart. The path before me is clear and my success or failure is all up to me from here on.

MAKE IT HAPPEN—MAKE IT REAL!

Hardcore Harry

Book of Firsts

 We humans are prone to celebrate and commemorate a great many firsts in our lives. First off, we define ourselves by the date we entered the world from our mother’s womb. This is only the beginning. After that we have our first teeth;  first words;  first baby steps;  and our first day of school. Add to that any number of firsts: our first kiss;  first car; first true love; and who can ever  forget the birth of his or her first child? As a paratrooper I will always remember my first jump, every one of my “First” Sergeants, and I will always remember my first and only time in combat–it forever changed my life. As a result, the first anniversary of surviving the wounds I sustained in combat was just as important as any birthday I have ever celebrated. The date October 27th, 1983 is forever burned in my memory and not a one passes that I do not give thanks for having lived to see a new one! Now I can add the date May 24th, 2010, to my Book of Firsts.

Today I took the first steps in nearly 26 and 1/2 years! Before that I had the delicious  pleasure of buying my first pair of shoes in 26 and 1/2 years as well. I cannot tell you the giddiness that accompanies setting  a course toward the shoe isle at Academy Sports and ACTUALLY having a bona fide reason to be there other than to wait on one of my family members to pick out their latest pair of shoes!!! Talk about a (RE)defining moment in a life!!! There I was, caught up in the moment actually taking great care again to pick out a pair of shoes that defines me! (Mental checklist: something rugged, practical, lightweight. A manly man shoe if it exists. Thank you very much please!) Here I am sporting a pair of Reebok DMX Voyage Walking Shoes Size 8–this is two and a half to three sizes smaller than I used to wear all those years back but a convincing argument was made that a smaller shoe weighs a lot less and any weight saved when walking with artificial legs is a GOOD thing!!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! A manly man shoe suitable to carry the author aloft on his new mission to once again walk upright!

Shortly after docking the aforementioned manly manifesting, leather clad, mobile transport enhancing footwear to my computer enhanced robotic legs I am ready to get started on this business on being upright, vertical, and in motion! They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I know that whoever made up this maxim knew damn well what he or she was saying. The moment that I first laid eyes on my new Otto Bock C-Legs I saw a beautiful functional work of art!

Here I, Hardcore Harry, begin again learning the art of walking upright. No more will I define myself by my reclined state! I feel just like a pioneer setting out into the vast unknown wilderness, not knowing what future awaits me but I know I will engage that future fearlessly and with the utmost resolve. I am a US Army Airborne Paratrooper. Surrender is not in my creed!

Happiness Defined Airborne Style: Determination in Action!

HOOAHHH!!!

Hardcore Harry