Authors note: This will be featured in the June/July issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork. From all of us at Vance Publishing, thank you to all the brave men and women who are serving, and have served our country so that we can remain free. Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.
At first glance, Bill Brodie comes across as a tough customer. Brown hair, sprinkled with gray, is covered by a stiff-crowned ball cap, partially shielding skin weathered from years spent out in the sun. Taking a step, his right leg remains stiff — wooden memorabilia from the jungles of Vietnam.
On second glance, there is a gentleness detected. Soft eyes glimmer with orneriness, revealing compassion and wisdom found only from a man who has seen suffering and beauty in the world most can’t imagine.
It was 1966. During the heat of the Vietnam War, the Ashland, Kan., ranch kid had his heart set on joining the Marines fresh out of high school.
“I’d always wanted to be a Marine and wanted to see if I could make it through the training,” Brodie says. “Guess I must have watched too many John Wayne movies.”
When asked what the training was like, he just laughs and simply says, “Have you ever tried swimming in sand? It was tough. It was real tough.”
By the time Brodie’s platoon graduated boot camp, 85 percent of them had orders to ship out to Vietnam. By April 10, 1967, Brodie’s boots hit the ground on foreign soil. At the time, there was a huge push to get troops through training and into action.
Four months later, Brodie was hit after tripping a booby trap. And by Sept. 7, 1967, he took a bullet straight to the bone of his right leg, severing the arteries. When he was airlifted out the following day, gangrene had set in and his leg had to be amputated.
“I was in a tourniquet for 24 hours, but it beat bleeding out,” says the veteran, matter-of-factly. “My wounds compared to so many of the other men’s were not that catastrophic.”
Admitting losing his leg was more of a mental challenge than physical challenge, he’s found ways to see the silver lining.
“I’d been sorting a load of heifers for these two brothers one day, and my partner stopped by after I’d left. They said to him, ‘That was the toughest man we’ve ever seen. An 800-pound heifer kicked him as she ran by and it sounded like kicking a corner post. He never even broke a stride,’” recalls Brodie with a chuckle. “If there is a kicking steer or a biting dog, I just feed them that wood leg and let everyone think I’m tough.”