“All the horrors you can possibly imagine sweep through you when you see… the arm is gone.”
That was Paralyzed Veterans of America prosthetics consultant Fred Downs’ recollection of being wounded in the Vietnam War.
Today is Purple Heart Day, and we honor all Purple Heart recipients, including heroes like Fred, who earned four medals.
The Purple Heart is the first military decoration, started by George Washington, and awarded to soldiers who have been wounded or killed in service to their country.
Fred was an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam. On January 11, 1968, he stepped on a “Bouncing Betty,” a land mine that flies up from the ground and explodes about waist-high. It blew off his left arm and mutilated his body from the waist down.
After recovering and adjusting to his prosthetic, Fred went on to further serve his country as a tireless advocate for veterans who are disabled and all Americans with impairments. He is a former national director for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ prosthetic and sensory aids services, and has been a consultant for PVA since July 2013.
Fred’s personal experience gives him a unique perspective as heprovides information and research on prosthetics, orthotics and sensory aids, helping veterans and all Americans with disabilities regain their independence and mobility. His work has helped provide prosthetic appliances to over a million veterans in the United States. Fred is excited about advancements in research, saying “We are in the middle of an equipment renaissance for the disabled.” That was not the case years ago when Fred was injured, and he had to enter civilian life without his lower left arm and without the technological advances we have today.
It is an honor to work alongside Fred as we make sure our veterans with disabilities have access to the latest technology and advancements that allow them to live as comfortable a life as possible. Fred’s contributions give our heroes the ability to live with freedom, dignity, and opportunity—all the values they fought for.
We hope you will join us in celebration today of all our Purple Heart heroes, and show your gratitude to those who have given us their courage and sacrifice.