In 1970, Jack Godwin lost his left leg in Vietnam when a bomb landed in his foxhole.
Ever since then, he has struggled to get exercise, struggled even to move about.
But Saturday, he rolled down a Biloxi alley on a special “Amtryke” powered by his own hands, a big smile on his face. He rode slowly at first, then took off down the alley past a group of friends and a representative of AMBUCS, an organization that builds custom trykes for disabled veterans.
Two other vets, Quentin Brown, 51, and Warren Morris, 49, got trykes, too. Brown’s was similar to Godwin’s, but Morris happily pedaled swiftly down the alley on a tryke with no handlebars, only arm rests.
Godwin was looking forward to the sort of mobility others take for granted.
“I’m not getting too much exercise now,” he said. “I can’t lift weights and stuff like I used to because I’ve had several surgeries.
“I’m very appreciative that someone would give me something that will benefit me.”
A member of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, Godwin found himself in the middle of fierce fighting in Vietnam’s infamous A Shau Valley. It was there that he was wounded.
On July 14, 1970, the satchel bomb went off. “It blew all of my clothes off of me and I never did pass out,” he said.
His lower leg disintegrated.
“The two guys who were there with me, one of them made it out of the hole and started running,” Godwin said. “He had busted eardrums. The other was standing right by me and I grabbed him by the seam of his britches. He stood me up.”
Godwin was evacuated by chopper.
He said he was really depressed when he came home. All of the things he’d wanted to do in the military, he just couldn’t do anymore. Now, years later, “everything seems to be going in the right direction,” he said.
Brown was a telecommunications expert in Operation Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. He cannot forget the trauma of Kuwaiti civilians caught in the fighting.
“They (Iraqis) did the people bad in Kuwait,” he said. “There were a lot of civilians getting killed and run over. It was awful; a lot of unnecessary stuff. I saw a whole lot.”
He said Desert Storm left him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Then came a motorcycle accident.
In July 2013, “I was on my way to work one morning and a lady was jogging,” he said. “She ran out in front of all of the traffic. I was on my bike. I hit her. I lost a leg. She died too.”
Brown had been an active jogger and cyclist. He has two bicycles in his shed, gathering dust.
“I feel happy; blessed,” he said of his new AMBUCS bike. “I need the exercise. I’ve gained about 60 pounds. I sit in the house and watch people ride their bicycles all the time.
“Now I’ll be able to get out there with them.”
Morris was in a three-car collision in 1987 that put him in a hospital bed for 4 1/2 months. He was in rehab at Martinsburg (West Virginia) VA Medical Center for seven years.
“He was ejected from the car he was in, and run over by the car behind them,” his wife, Debra, said. “He was then pinned under the car following that car. He was three months away from leaving for Special Forces when the accident took place.”
“He’s blessed to receive something like this,” she said. “This won’t be only physical therapy for him but also mental therapy and just some free time. Hopefully, I can pick up a bike along the way and ride with him.”
These men, she said, “need to know that they still matter; that they still can do things. They may be disabled but they’re not helpless. They have a lot of life in them, a lot of love in them.”
Sgt. Ken Baldwin, president of the Gulf Coast AMBUCS, said the group’s members build the bikes.
“We try to do fundraising as much as we can,” he said. “At least every couple of months. And then it’s all based on the funds that we raised. This is our first time to give three bikes away with our own money.”
The Veterans Affairs hospital in Biloxi chooses the veterans for AMBUCS. “They have to have a physical or mental disability,” said Lee Raines, AMBUCS vice president. “This includes PTSD.”.
The chapter would like to expand its membership and start building trykes for disabled children, too, he said.
The joy on the faces of the three vets Saturday reminded Baldwin of another veteran.
“He was like 30 years old,” he said. “He was very standoffish, didn’t smile, wouldn’t say much, but once we put him on the bike, his face finally cracked. He smiled. Just to see that, that was enough for me.”
Mia Sims is a student at Ole Miss majoring in journalism.