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If you forget folks like this, then you should be ashamed

September 08, 2000

If you forget folks like this, then you should be ashamed



By Bob Maginnis

The bullet that paralyzed William Walters from the waist down didn't even break the outer covering of his spinal cord. As he was struggling to get an extra magazine out of his pocket, the sniper's round hit his helment, spun around inside the "steel pot" like a marble in a mixing bowl and lodged in his neck.

He was evacauted in less than half an hour and ended up a hospital where doctors told him that his spinal cord had been bruised. Some of the docs said they couldn't understand why he wasn't completely paralyzed. Others said the paralysis to his legs might last six days, six months or indefinitely.

So far it's been more than 30 years, but the Washington County native is surprisingly good-natured as he talks about his life and his work with the local chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. Like many veterans, Walters is matter-of-fact about what happened in the service, but agreed to talk to me because the DAV is in the midst of it annual "Forget-Me-Not" drive that raises money for their service programs.

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Now 56, Walters was born in Hagerstown and attended South Hagerstown High School so he could participate in Future Farmers of America.

"I took up FFA, raised a hog and worked on some of these farms out here," Walter said.

But life on the land turned into life on the line in 1966 when Walters was drafted into the Army, which sent him to Fort Bragg for basic training and then to Fort Pope for AIT - Advanced Infantry Training. Walters said he tangled with some of his drill instructors there, telling them that all their hollering wasn't what the men needed to prepare them to work together as a unit.

But he made it through, and after going home for a leave, he was sent to San Francisco to catch a plane across the Pacific.

"I guess I didn't know what to expact, but I knew you had to be careful and you had to watch yourself," he said.

The day he was injured he remembers seeing two or three Vietnamese men walking toward one of his outfit's positions, hands behind their backs. After refusing requests to raise their hands, they kept moving forward and were shot. Behind their backs were grenades, which they had apparently intended to toss at the GIs as soon as they got close.

That same day, his unit was setting up to catch any Viet Cong driven toward them by tank unit. Unbeknownst to them, "we were setting up in what was a pretty hot spot," Walters said.

"We had three men pinned down - one dead and two wounded. Me and four or five other ones came around the other way, to try to get to our men who were pinned down," he said.

"I was lying down on my stomach by a tree. My squad leader was in plain sight, on his knees, behind a tree. I asked him 'Where are they supposed to be?'" Walters said.

The snipers were dug into a fence row and not visible, though Walters said he could see they were firing at ground level because their bullets were kicking up little puffs of dirt in front of him.

"When he pointed to them, they opened fire. A bullet went through his shirt, but didn't hit him," he said.

"I reached back to my side" to get more ammunition, Walters said, and that's when it happened.

"It hit my steel pot, followed around inside and came into my neck. Your spine has a coating, kind of like skin and it didn't even break that. Some of the doctors couldn't figure out why, as high as I was hit, why I wasn't a paraplegic," he said.

The injury occurred in March of 1966. By summer he was home, living with his parents and adjusting to his new limitations. After some self-described wild times, Walters married and now has two grown children.

Some of his days are spent dealing with ongoing medical problems, but what keeps him going is his work with the DAV. Each month the chapter runs a bingo game at Veterans Admisnistration hoospital in Martinsburg, W. Va., giving canteen books as prizes, which Walters explains they can "spend the same as money."

In the summer, the DAV chapter buys 100 tickets to the Hagerstown Suns games, and food coupons so that those riding over from the hospital can enjoy a hot dog and a soft drink as they watch the game.

The chapter also worked with the chief of volunteer services there to devise a competition called "The Handi-Abled Games," Walters said.

"We originated and came up with that, and our chapter furnished the medals for that event which is strictly for those in the Martinsburg VA hospital," Waltersw said.

He added that the chapter has also donated equipment to the VA outpatient clinic located at the Western Maryland Center on Pennylvania Avenue in Hagerstown.

To support these activities, the chapter is conducting its annual Forget-Me-Not fund drive at the following area businesses:

On Sept. 15-16, at A.C. Moore at the Centre at Hagerstown on U.S. 40 West; on Sept. 22-23 K-Mart in Valley Plaza on Wesel Boulevard and and on Sept. 29-30, at Wal-Mart.

For someone dealing with a chronic, service-related medical condition, any opportunity for recreation is welcome. If you've been lucky enough to avoid such a fate, please remember the vets who didn't by making a donation.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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