How do you define freedom? The dictionary provides a general answer, but I suspect most of us have a more personal definition based on our life experiences.
For Walter Ubiles, of Diamond City, freedom recently arrived in the form of some lumber, concrete and a good deed. Actually, several good deeds, none less that the one provided by Bailey Ready Mix, but more on that later.
As a young man Walter aspired to be a professional football player. A running back, he was good enough to play for semi-professional teams and even made the Oakland Raiders practice squad.
“I was small, but fast,” Walter recently told me. “By the time those big linemen turned around, I was five yards down the field.”
However, a career in the NFL was not to be.
The Vietnam War was calling and Walter suddenly found himself in the Army. As a specialist in something called “Primary Technical Control,” he had a top secret clearance and was stationed at various, undisclosed locations. Not knowing what is still classified, Walter couldn’t go in to too many details, but I was able to glean that his job involved computers and highly classified communications. Walter liked his job in the Army so much he reenlisted and after he got out he went to work for the Lawrence Livermore, another top secret facility.
While in the Army, Walter had hurt his leg. Years later diabetes took its toll and that leg had to be amputated. This past January Walter had triple by-pass surgery and then in May lost his remaining leg to diabetes. After spending a year in hospitals and rehabilitation, Walter returned home to Diamond City a double amputee with no electric wheelchair.
The Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Chapter 6, heard of Walter’s need and quickly delivered an electric wheelchair, but discovered he had no way to get his wheelchair in or out of his house.
The DAV recently launched “Operation Unforgotten” to help veterans with these type issues and last week provided the materials and labor to build Walter a new porch, ramps and safety railings, but there was something missing. The handicap ramp from his house was 45 feet away from the paved street and his wheelchair was getting stuck in the graveled driveway. He needed a sidewalk and the DAV’s budget for this project was running low.
Enter Bailey Ready Mix (BRM).
The second that Alesha Bailey, the owner of BRM, heard Walter’s story she immediately offered to donate all the concrete we needed. Her dispatcher, Archie Downes, made all the arrangements and BRM driver, David Dix, helped us finish the concrete even though he wasn’t required to do so. This $650 gift and support to a complete stranger in need says a lot about the fine people at Bailey Ready Mix.
Sitting at his kitchen table last week, I asked Walter how he was feeling about things.
“You see that ramp and sidewalk outside?” he replied pointing. “That’s my path to freedom. Now I can go to church, my doctor, a restaurant and make it all the way down to the lake and back. I‘m no longer a prisoner in my own home and for that I am forever grateful.”
Walter will never again feel the joy of racing down a football field with his eye fixed on the goal line. Ever the optimist, Walter’s eye is now on a new horizon that includes one day, with the help of prosthetics, walking again, playing with grandchildren and maybe even catching a fish or two. Given his remarkable positive attitude and grit, I have no doubt this will happen.
Matt Russell is a USMC Vietnam combat veteran and Commander of the Boone County DAV. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent the position of this newspaper, the Disabled American Veterans or any other organization.