Friday, May 04, 2007

Part 6 of The Man Who Fell: "The Spirit is Willing..."

To catch up, click on parts 1, 2, 3, 4 , and 5.

What I find incredible is that George “healed” almost completely on his own, but did he really? The army never treated him, never provided any real physical therapy and never even set a single bone. He found out much later--long after his discharge--that he had sustained a nasty green stick fracture to his right femur. (note: the sample photo of a greenstick fracture is of the lower leg) Instantly, he lost two and ½ inches of height. This is due to his vertebrae mashing together, as did the bones in his hips, knees and ankles.

Obviously, his brain came loose in its “housing” resulting in all kinds of brain function problems over the years, mostly to his short term memory. All his tendons, muscles, blood vessels, and organs ripped, tore, and hemorrhaged, as did every bit of connective tissue. The organs of his central body cavity ripped loose from their moorings and ended up in a painful jumble in the pit of his belly where they still sit unrepaired to this day. Even his heart is not where it should be having shifted in his chest.

His femoral arteries, the big ones that run down into the legs through the big pelvic bones were so badly damaged that they are now completely closed. Over the years his body developed alternate vessels around them. This reduced blood flow has caused his lower limbs to atrophy and weaken.

George gets a chuckle every time he has a CAT scan or an X-ray done. It doesn’t matter what part of his body they look at, there’s always something remarkable to see. Essentially, he is one big internal lesion. Every joint shows space narrowing (to say the least!) and extreme damage, and none of his organs are where they should be. What does upset him though, is the reaction he gets whenever he tells the medical people what caused the injuries—inevitably, they voice disbelief. No one, especially civilian medical personnel, can believe that a man can fall almost unimpeded from 1250 feet and live; and George does NOT like being called a liar (especially by the VA!).

Because his mind would no longer consistently record the days or even the minutes, George can’t tell you today exactly how long he spent recovering at
Womack Army Hospital that summer of ’61. To him, it felt like no more than 3 to 4 days instead of the more likely 3 to 4 months he actually spent mending there.

His army medical records from that period do not exist anymore. Somehow, the army lost them, not an unusual story from what I’ve seen helping other veterans like him. Maybe they were burned in the Great St. Louis fire of ’72, or maybe they are just misplaced in the huge archives building called NPRC. The VA doesn’t care why they can’t find them; once the records are lost it then becomes the veteran’s responsibility to prove his conditions resulted from active service.

It's hard to imagine considering what he went through, but the VA actually gave George a difficult time when he first claimed his condition back in the ‘70s. Mostly because once again, no one could believe what happened to him. And over the years his injuries have become worse and worse until now he is practically an invalid, although still the tough Green Beret, you’d never guess the extent of his physical problems if you met him.

But all that heartache was years in the future. The immediate effects of George's parachute mishap still had to be suffered through. The furthest thing from his youthful macho mind was ending his army career, but that’s exactly what the medical staff was proposing. A doctor offered him an immediate medical discharge, but George turned him down flat. Sometimes, being a tough guy can work against you, especially when you can’t see the future, because taking that medical retirement is exactly what he should have done.

“The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” is a paraphrased quote from the New Testament that fits George’s situation back then perfectly. In his mind he was still the undamaged rough-and-ready Green Beret he had been before “the fall.” The 21-year-old was not ready to accept how horribly injured his body and mind actually was, and soon, he would learn another astonishing truth—the army still had one more surprise in store for the resilient young sergeant.

George’s memories of the next two plus months are hazy. It’s as if his life was a movie and whole segments of the film were snipped out. When he was "well enough" (a relative term in his case) to leave the hospital, he was instructed to make his way to the “Smoke Bomb Hill” Special Forces area for further orders. Even though he wasn’t stationed on Fort Bragg, he knew the layout of the base from his many visits there. He made his way on foot, feeling that "things" were "not right" inside him. He simply ignored the internal discomfort and kept trucking.

There was a large open field on the edge of Smoke Bomb Hill and he noticed a lone 12-man squad tent pitched on the edge of it. As he neared the tent a skinny red-headed corporal greeted him, “Are you Sergeant W....? All your gear is in the tent. I’ve been instructed to tell you that this will be your quarters until further notice. When you need to shit, shower and shave you will do so only in those barracks across the way.” The corporal pointed to some distant non-SF barracks buildings across the road and continued, “You are only to go to those barracks and to the chow hall over there. You are under detention here and you are not to go anywhere else on the base except for this area, the chow hall and to the barracks.”

George ignored the corporal and entered the tent. A cot was set up on the grass floor on the right side with all his gear piled on the cot. He had noticed a post driven into the ground in front of the tent with a document thumbtacked to it and he went back outside to check it out. Reading it, he shook his head in disbelief. It seems he was under house or “tent” arrest until a court martial in 6 to 9 weeks time. The charges were listed as disobeying direct orders, insubordination, and destruction of government property.

That was the appreciation he got for crashing into the ground and living!

Continue to part 7, the final installment, and learn the shocking details of what finally happened to "The Man Who Fell..."


Amadeo said...

This human interest story is definitely heart-tugging. And nowhere else but in the armed services to look for and find such gems.

I think also of the countless young men coming out of the current wars. Many not only minus certain limbs, or pounds of flesh, but minus their youth. I am sure their stories are also being compiled and poignantly narrated for our consumption.

Your work with veterans is very commendable.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Thanks buddy...