Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Post

"The true story of airman Douglas Bader who overcame the loss of both legs in a 1931 flying accident to become a successful fighter pilot and wing leader during World War II.”
When I was a kid, I went through a Second World War aircraft enthusiast phase. So, I’ve known a bit about Douglas Bader since I was very young. Memorial Day seems like a good occasion to think about him as a war hero and a fairly traditional but still kind of thrilling disability role model. Here are the highlights of Douglas Bader’s story as outlined by Wikipedia:

• In 1931, Royal Air Force pilot Douglas Bader crashed while attempting low-altitude aerobatics. He underwent surgery during which one leg was amputated below the knee and the other above the knee.

• After a lot of painful rehabilitation, he walked again with prosthetics, drove an adapted car, and was able to fly again. It looked as though he could continue to be an RAF pilot, but despite proving his flying ability, the RAF “invalided” him out of the service, reportedly because there were no regulations to address a situation like Bader’s. It wasn't the first or last time bureaucratic technicalities were the cause ... or excuse ... for a disabled person's lost opportunity.

• He re-joined the RAF just before the outbreak of the Second World War; this time, he was accepted as an active pilot. During the war he scored 20 “victories” (planes confirmed to be shot down). That's a lot.

• In 1941, he crashed over occupied France. As he was bailing out, one of his prosthetic legs got caught inside the cockpit. By opening his parachute, the force snapped the prosthetic’s strap, which freed Bader from the falling airplane … leaving his prosthetic behind of course.

• Bader was taken prisoner by the Germans. Initially they treated him well, even arranging safe passage for British planes to drop replacement prosthetics for Bader. Still, he kept trying to escape, sometimes almost succeeding. In the end he was sent to Colditz Castle, an “escape proof” POW prison. He was liberated in 1945 by the First United States Army.

• In 1976, Douglas Bader was honored by the Queen in 1956 and 1976 for services to disabled people.

• Nobody’s perfect. Bader was a “staunch” Conservative who supported racist and apartheid governments in Rhodesia and South Africa, and often spoke out against trade unions and anti-nuclear campaigners in the United Kingdom.