By David Feherty
I flew from Dallas to D.C. just in time for the amputation. (Incidentally, this is not a spectator sport.) My first Troops First Foundation soldier was a Green Beret born on the 4th of July in Waco, Texas, named John Wayne Walding. Now, that’s an American. John was waiting for us outside the recovery room. Though small in stature, he’s wiry and obviously strong. At first glance it’s difficult to tell his right leg has been amputated below the knee. John’s demeanor, his athletic stance and gait suggest the kind of confidence and dignity I have only seen in members of America’s Armed Forces. It’s a very difficult attribute to put into words, but I’ll take a shot at it. John Wayne has a kind of “lethal politeness.”
We go into the room. John takes a seat beside the bed, wherein lies Major Kent Solheim, another Green Beret who has just given his right leg below the knee. Grinning like a guilty schoolboy, Kent is impossibly handsome. As he stretches and yawns, he exudes the kind of power usually associated with a big cat. Not a lion, but something smaller. Perhaps a panther or a leopard. Kent went in with two legs, and came out with one and a half just like John, who is laughing with Kent’s wife, Trina.
Not for the last time that day, I find myself thinking of Thomas Jefferson, and how proud he would be of this scene, because John Wayne Walding and Kent Solheim are both going back to war, to the place they were so horribly wounded. They want to re-join their units and finish the job they so well began.
To the rest of us ordinary civilians, this is lunacy — almost unthinkable. Haven’t these men done enough? Shouldn’t they leave bad enough alone? Sadly, most of America is not even aware that this class of American — men and women more super-hero than human — even exists. Such is the nature of the subliminal battle of the last 30 years waged against the image of our Armed Forces.
Our children are no longer taught that it is cool to be a soldier, and dreams of being a hero are becoming a thing of the past. Men such as Lewis Black, Gary Sinise, Robin Williams, and others are working to change this perception. Americans need to know about men like John Wayne and Kent, and I intend to enlighten them.
I believe that many Americans might be interested in the fact that Kent Solheim chose to have his leg amputated because the prosthetic that would replace it would give him more of a chance of being redeployed. Yes, Kmart shoppers, that’s right. Kent’s leg was okay, but he knew it wouldn’t be good enough for him to pass the almost impossible physical tests he would have to face to get back to his unit. Think about that for a moment, and how proud you’d be of a child who would make that decision! A man with a beautiful wife and two beautiful children, who had a surgeon saw off his leg below the knee, so he could go back and fight for his country. For want of a better word, I think that’s beautiful!
Is this not extraordinary enough to make news or newsprint in this country? Apparently not. My youngest son Rory wants to be an Army Ranger — nothing more, nothing less, just an Army Ranger. Shouldn’t be a problem, I’m thinking. The fact that he is currently serving up music and drama in the famous Booker T. Washington school for the performing arts seems irrelevant. I’ve told him that even if he does know all the words to “Springtime for Hitler and Germany” that 3rd Group are unlikely to put on a production of The Producers any time soon, but he seems unfazed. Frankly, I couldn’t be more proud of him, and all the other American children who dream of being a soldier.
Sure, there are dangers involved; there always have been. But our children enjoy a way of life that was provided for them by what Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation.” If we want their grandchildren to grow up happy, free, and able to defend themselves against those who would do them harm, we need to teach them how it was accomplished. There are no finer teachers than those in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard. There are no prouder parents than those of the young Americans who serve. But you’ll have to ask around — chances are you may not read it anywhere other than here.
*–David Feherty visits troops on USO celebrity tours each year. He is a commentator for CBS Sports, a featured columnist in Golf Magazine and a former professional golfer.