My godfather, whom I am proud to call my Uncle Ralph, is truly a remarkable man. Uncle Ralph was the first triple amputee to return home from World War II in 1946. He was only 18 years old when his life changed forever in 1944. While away at boot camp preparing to be sent overseas, a psychiatric patient threw a live mortar shell into his barracks after field training. My uncle and two other men were standing right in the line of the shell. Not knowing whether it was already detonated or live, my uncle instinctively jumped in front of the shell in an effort to save the other men and push it out of the barracks. Unfortunately, the mortar was live and hit the ground before he could get to it, and it exploded.
Uncle Ralph lost both legs; one above the knee and one below. His dominant right hand was also lost. Like many men and women severely injured at war, Uncle Ralph faced many hurdles along the road to recovery. The things that we take for granted, eating, walking, dressing, writing, going to the bathroom and all daily functions had to be relearned. I can't even imagine the emotional trauma he faced.
Somehow though, with all the cards stacked against him, this man, my godfather, found a way to rise above it all. He was strong; not only physically, but mentally. After two years in the hospital for recovery, he had to learn how to live his life with prosthetics as a very young man. Different from today's advanced materials, his prosthetics were heavy (35 pounds per leg), with many belts and straps that he had to learn how to use. His right arm was fitted with a hook that could open and close, which gave him the ability to perform multiple daily tasks. My uncle refused to use a wheelchair. In his mind, he was not disabled; he was just unique, if you will.
He mastered the use of his prosthetics and walked as if he was an able-bodied man. You would have never known he was on prosthetics. If you could have seen my uncle in his younger days, you would have been inspired, as he quietly inspired many without even knowing it.
Nothing stopped him. He woke up every morning, got in his car (which was equipped just for him) and drove to work. He was a one-handed machinist who made aircraft parts, working 16 hours a day to support his family. He then took a job as a county employee supervisor and retired from there at age 62. He and my Aunt Catherine raised three children. They now have five grandchildren, two great grandchildren, who are the light of their lives. I remember vividly how blessed I was to spend the summer with my uncle, aunt, and cousins every year. We would have family dinners, talk at the table and just spend quality time as a family. They would take me on vacation and they built fantastic memories for me. We were a normal, tight-knit family. Even though my uncle was disabled, it never stopped him and my aunt from living life to the fullest and always giving of themselves to others. My uncle was quoted in a newspaper in 1955 As saying "Don't feel bad for me, there's a lot of good Joes who didn't make it."
Uncle Ralph was happy each day to be alive and was grateful and proud of the life and family he and my aunt built together. My aunt was a saint sent from heaven and was the glue that held the family together.
Uncle Ralph quietly inspired his family, friends and strangers by saying nothing, but by watching him, there was a lesson learned. You can accomplish anything in life if you really want it!
Today at 91 years old, he still puts those prosthetics on every day and still won't use a wheelchair unless he really has to. God bless our Veterans.
In honor of my godfather, Uncle Ralph, Diamond in the Ruff Dog Training will be offering discounts to all disabled American veterans of war as well as all active duty police and firefighters.