Americans have been honoring military veterans on November 11 for 101 years. During that time, more than 10,000 U.S. service men and women have lost limbs in combat. An estimated 1,500 of those amputees were wounded during this century’s conflicts in the Middle East. You’ve seen a few of those individuals in the Paralympics, in Congress, and in the pages of Amplitude.
Today, on Veterans Day, we’re sharing the perspectives of four amputee soldiers and reflecting on the service of all veterans—those who died, lost limbs, and sustained other life-changing injuries, as well as those who escaped lasting effects. At a time when Americans are expending too much energy fighting against one another, this is a good day to hear from individuals who made great sacrifices on behalf of all Americans, and who embody the values—the hard work, generosity of spirit, intelligence, skill, and basic sense of fairness and decency—that represent the best of our country.
It so happens all four speakers served in the Army, which is more by luck than design. We wanted to share video remembrances, and not many of those are available on the Internet; the ones we found all happened to be from Army veterans. But we believe their voices can speak on behalf of individuals who’ve served in all branches of the military.
We’ve printed brief excerpts here, but we encourage you to spend at least a little time watching the accompanying videos.
Army Pvt. Charles Battaglia
World War II
“I was wounded on the outskirts of Aachen. . . . . [T]his mortar came, and that was the end. I was blown up. I tried to get up, and there was nothing under me. . . . That was the end of what I can remember. When I woke up, my legs were gone. And that was a hell of a feeling. It was rough. And the war’s still going on. The Germans were coming right at us, and they had to get us out. I was [sent to] the hospital in Paris. . . . and the thing that happened in that ward, there was a New York guy that was being amputated, and he was so bitter that he didn’t want to take any pills. So they put him next to me on the ward, and then after that he was quiet and we were great friends. I said, ‘Look at me! I’m worse off than you are.’ I took it very calmly.” (Watch the full interview.)
Army Col. Bill Weber
“It was 30 degrees below zero, and everything was frozen solid. It was one of the most severe winters in Korean history . . . . I got the mission of taking Hill 342, which was the prominent terrain feature overlooking Wonju. We took 342, and then a real major confrontation took place where we took it from them, they tried to take it back—it was back and forth. They got through our lines; we got back. It was well over 14 hours of staged combat. I got wounded the first time about 2330 hours, lost the arm. But as I said, it was 30 below, and everything congealed immediately. The blood stopped flowing. I didn’t have any pain. I felt no shock. I just did what I had to do. I was commanding a company and we were in a tough spot. . . . . . Somewhere around 0130, I got hit again, and that took the leg. And that put me down, of course. I remember telling my guys to hold it, which they did. We never lost the hill.” (Watch the full interview; excerpted passage begins at about 59:45 in the video.)
Army Spc. James Mayer
“I had a real disposition about being an amputee or being seriously wounded. It was not positive. . . . . Somebody’d be reading a letter from a guy who had been in the platoon who stepped on a landmine, lost a leg, and was writing to say he was taking his first steps. And the whole platoon would be going, ‘Isn’t that great. He’s gonna walk again. He only lost his leg above the knee, and he’s gonna walk again.’ And I sat there and I said, ‘If that happens to me, I’m gonna shoot myself.’ And I wasn’t kidding. I went from that to being confronted with it real quick, [and] I told my best friend in the platoon: ‘I’m gonna live.’ I don’t know where it came from, but it came out real strong. . . . [One nurse] asked me what I was gonna do when I get back, and I said, ‘I’m gonna throw a party.’ ‘What kind of party?’ ‘I’m gonna throw an Alive Day party on the day I got blown up, April 25th.’ . . . And I’ve done it every year.” (Watch the full interview; excerpted passage begins at about 32:45 in the video.)
Army 2nd Lieutenant Melissa Stockwell
“When I woke up in the Baghdad emergency room on April 13, 2004, that was not supposed to be part of my story. . . . I had images of a Humvee, a cracked windshield, and a lot of blood, and as I lay there in the Baghdad ER, I knew that my life was forever changed. And that’s where my real story begins. . . . . I eventually was brought to Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, where I would spend many, many months trying to find my new normal. When I got there, I looked around and I saw that there were soldiers missing two, three, four limbs. They had traumatic brain injuries, they’d lost their eyesight. I looked at myself and I thought, “Holy cow, am I lucky. And I made a promise then to live my life for those who had given the ultimate sacrifice, and to choose to make my story one of triumph. I had that opportunity. . . . . Embrace the unknown, be optimistic, and be confident toward the future. Look around, because there is inspiration everywhere—even in the darkest of places. When I was at Walter Reed, instead of choosing to focus on the devastation of the soldiers there, I chose to focus on their resilience.” (Watch the full video.)