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A course change: Army veteran, amputee traces life's path back to 'Alive Day' in Vietnam.

Bill Caywood vividly remembers stepping out of a rice paddy in Vietnam when an explosion tore through his leg. While walking as point man--the most forward and exposed position of a combat patrol--he triggered a booby trap, sending a volley of ignited fragments into him and the soldier behind.

"Fifteen minutes after that, there was another explosion," said Caywood. "I got a few more wounds from that one."

On Dec. 9, 1969, just 13 days after his 21st birthday, his right leg was amputated below the knee. The events leading up to that day weren't necessarily of his own volition, but they laid before him a path he otherwise would not have traveled.

The Indiana native's draft number had come up while he was considering enlisting in the Navy, but at the in-processing site the room was divvied up by service-half became Marines, while Caywood's side of the room ended up in the Army.

Following the attack, he was treated at Valley Forge Military Hospital in Pennsylvania, where he was first introduced to DAV He was offered assistance with his VA claims, and local DAV chapters also took patients on off-site trips like deep-sea fishing or out for dinners off base. He spent most of 1970 hospitalized at Valley Forge. When he left, Caywood began his new life as an amputee, but his involvement with DAV was just beginning.

After earning a college degree and spending a few years in the restaurant and hotel industry, he was looking for a career change.

"My VA vocational rehabilitation counselor asked if I might be interested in applying for a job as a national service officer with the DAV," recalled Caywood. "I thought that sounded like a pretty good job."

His career with DAV began in the early 1980s at the Indianapolis regional office. For 15 years, Caywood helped his fellow veterans access the benefits they earned in service.

"I was in a position where I could assist a lot of veterans over the years," he said.

What was also unexpected was meeting Cindy, his wife, while working at DAV. Her mother worked in the same building as Caywood in downtown Indianapolis. One day, while meeting her mom for lunch, Cindy was introduced to the Army veteran. They started dating shortly after.

"He liked to do really fun things, like hike and go to the circus," she said.

Caywood's injuries clearly didn't stop him from living life to the fullest, but he kept the fact that he was an amputee away from Cindy, afraid of what she might think.

"After about a month or so I found out, and of course it had no impact on me whatsoever or our relationship," said Cindy.

Since retiring from full-time benefits advocacy, Caywood has remained an active participant with DAV He attended several DAV-sponsored events this year, including the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colo.; Carolina Country Music Fest in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and National Disabled Veterans TEE (Training, Exposure and Experience) Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa.

In addition to mentoring veterans at national events, he's gone as far as to help put on adaptive sporting events through DAV in his home state.

Caywood was recently honored with the TEE Tournament's inaugural DAV Freedom Award for embodying the event's rehabilitative spirit.

"With all these events, I think, as the young guys call it, you get stoked," he added. "And then the more you get stoked, the smaller your disabilities get. They become more diminished."

He doesn't go as far as to celebrate his Alive Day, but each year as Dec. 9 approaches, he can't help but think of what unfolded that day and how it had such a major impact on his life's path. He views the tragedy of losing a leg as a springboard for some of his proudest life achievements.

"Here we are almost 50 years later, and it changed my life," added Caywood. "It changed my direction, of course, but that direction doesn't need to be a negative one."

By Matt Saintsing
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Title Annotation:ALIVE DAY
Author:Saintsing, Matt
Publication:DAV Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2019
Words:673
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