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The day that turned me into a veteran-honoring patriot – at age 48

I’m not proud to admit it, but I was almost 50 before I gave any serious thought to the men and women who sacrificed so much serving our country.

That finally began to change when I was living in Fort Mill, South Carolina, and our local newspaper asked me to interview a Vietnam veteran named Jacky Bayne for the upcoming Veterans Day edition.

I walked out of his home that sunny November day forever changed.

Bayne, when he was 52, told me an incredible story – one that landed him on newspaper pages and TV news programs across America back in the late ‘60s (and many times since). More on that later, because – while the highly unusual and dramatic part of his story is definitely attention-getting, that’s not what changed me.

What impacted me was the following: First, he came home from Vietnam minus a leg, with one arm useless because of brain damage, and in need of lifelong caretakers. I had never sat and chatted with a person with one leg before. I had never even thought to thank God for my two legs.

Second, he could have lived a life wrought with bitterness and resentment over what the Vietnam War did to him. Instead, he was happy. I could not detect the remotest trace of self-pity. He cheerfully instructed me in no uncertain terms not to feel sorry for him.

“I got to come home,” he said. “Others did not.”

I did not grow up particularly patriotic. I did not come from a military family; nor did I even know any such families. The community in which I was raised was made up predominantly of farmers. If you were a farmer or the son of a farmer, the military typically exempted you. Farmers were needed at home to keep food on the plates of their fellow Americans.

Some of the boys in my 1967 high school class must have served. But my high school was not in my small rural community, it was in a large city 20 miles away. Once I moved away from that area to attend college six hours away, I lost touch with most of my former classmates, so if some were wounded or even lost their lives in Vietnam, I did not hear about it.

I don’t know why, but wars and the men who fought in them were not spoken of in my circles.

So back to Bayne. He enlisted in the Army and became a Specialist. His job was to work with a German Shepherd named Bruno to keep the other men safe from mines and other explosives – a job he took very seriously.

One fateful day after a mine exploded, at age 22, Bayne was declared dead and placed in a body bag. The dog had been killed in the incident. The soldier who was toe-tagging Bayne, for reasons the young man could not explain later, decided to check the body and detected a faint pulse. Bayne was rushed to the field hospital, but by then his pulse had faded to nothing, so he was pronounced dead again and placed in a body bag – again.

Before the embalmer started on him, a faint pulse was detected – yes, again. This time, medical personnel were able to work on him immediately. He awoke a month later at Walter Reed. He thought he was in a POW camp, but instead heard his mother’s voice praying for him.

In every interview I’ve read or listened to with this American hero, he always uses his strange experience as a platform to then pull the attention off himself and onto those who never made it home.

He also uses his platform to express great love for America, and to urge others to take proper care of our wounded and traumatized veterans. Additionally, he never fails to articulate his extreme gratitude to God for allowing him to live.

“Bruno died, and I gave my leg and more, but other soldiers did not die because me and Bruno did our duty,” Bayne often says, referring to his work with mines – and he says it with justifiable pride.

I’m glad that this special veteran lived just a few miles from me in Fort Mill, SC – and that the Fort Mill Times sent me to meet with him. He turned me into the patriotic veteran-honoring American I should have been much sooner in life.

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