It was 1970 in South Vietnam's Central Highlands and soldier Dave Nichols of the 173rd Airborne Brigade was on patrol walking point. In time, he stumbled onto an enemy ambush in which North Vietnamese soldiers remotely detonated a landmine that exploded near him.
Now 62 and from Stone Ridge, New York, Nichols said in a telephone interview, "After the blast I was on my back and realized one of my legs was gone. I yelled for the medic. Five of us were hit, including the guy behind me who lost both feet. They loaded us onto a chopper and off to an aid station. I lost both legs about six inches below the knee."
At first, he was in denial and had plenty of physical pain to endure. He spent nine months in a hospital recovering and was fitted with below-knee prostheses that enabled him to walk without crutches or a walker. He said, "You deal with it because you don't have a choice. It was a struggle at first, but family and friends helped me get through."
In civilian life, he went on to manage and sell commercial properties and eventually became a "Mr. Mom" caring for the children while his wife was a schoolteacher. He became active in community life as a Little League coach, volunteer firefighter, youth commission board member, and museum board member. Today, he's an avid golfer, boxer, and certified ski instructor for people with disabilities.
However, his most satisfying work involves representing the National Amputation Foundation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He said, "When I go down there with other wounded combat veterans, I don't tell the (wounded) soldiers everything is going to be okay. I let them talk. I also tell them about my experiences. Everyone's experience is different."
He accepts his disability nearly fully, in part because of having to live with it "24 hours a day for 42 years," he said. "When waking up in the morning, I know I'm an amputee. I'm a little self-conscious wearing shorts, but that's not a big deal." He said his having to wear below-knee prostheses was more an aggravation than a disability.
He advised, "Having a disability doesn't mean it's the end of the world. It just means you have to redirect your interests. You have to find (new) things that interest you and go after those."
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