"For every wounded warrior, there is a multitude of family, friends and communities who are forever changed." - Diana Mankin Phelps, A Mother's Side of War
I first met Larry Tomovick (left in the above picture, with his mother, Pat, and brother, Ken) in December of 1971, a little less than 2 years after he was wounded in Vietnam, leaving him without a leg, a hand, and blinded. We were on a scuba diving trip in the Florida Keys, and Larry was not about to let his new disability stop him.
I was living in Pensacola, Florida with my first husband, Jim Petersen, who was in the Marine Corps, attending flight school at the Naval Air Station. He came home from his first day at the base astonished that he had run into Ken Tomovick (on right, in above picture), whom we had gone to college with in California, although we had barely known him. Ken and his wife, Laurie, had also just arrived in Pensacola; Ken was enrolled in the same program, also to become a military pilot. The four of us became fast friends and ended up living, as neighbors, in a small brick duplex. We spent a lot of time together, and planned a winter trip to the Florida Keys. Ken invited his brother, Larry.
I think back on that time when I had just turned 22 as a time of denial, a time of putting my head in the sand about Vietnam. In 1968, when I was 18, I lost Eddy to Vietnam. He was my uncle, only 3 years older, whom I had grown up with and he was more like a brother. After he was killed, I didn't want to hear one thing about Vietnam. I pushed it away. I refused to read about it or watch the news.
Then Larry showed up on our trip. Here I was, face to face with the war that I was trying to push away. He was there in front of me scuba diving without one hand, with only one leg and legally blind. Even seeing Larry physically scarred by war, I was in denial. I never asked him anything about the war or his loss, I never thanked him for his service. I'm certain he was not only physically scarred but emotionally scarred by war, yet I was stuck in my cloud of denial. I recently told Larry that I wish I had shown more compassion by asking him about what he had been through.
Forty-seven years have passed and, to me, Larry is a hero. Not only for his time in Vietnam, but for what he has done since then. And it began with events like that scuba diving trip. Larry has lived his life fully and has let nothing stop him. He is one of the most inspirational persons that I know. He built himself a cabin with the help of some friends, he scuba-dived, he owned and sailed sailboats, built furniture, did some sky-diving and spent years swimming laps. How could he do all of this with one hand, one leg and impaired vision?
Larry Wesley Tomovick was born in November of 1948, grew up outside of Rapid City, South Dakota but moved to the San Francisco area when he was a high school junior. He graduated from Mountain View High School in Mountain View, California in 1967. It wasn't much later when he was inducted into the Army; he arrived in Vietnam in October of 1968 when he was 19.
His rank was E5, in the 25th Infantry Division, 3rd Squadron 4th Calvary Regiment, C troop of the U.S. Army, and was a crewman on an M48 tank in the Cu Chi area, a little north of Saigon. During the rainy season, one of their main functions was to ensure security along Highway 1, which was the supply route for the Viet Cong. On numerous occasions he was involved in firefight with the enemy who were launching RPGs, personal, shoulder-carried rocket grenade launchers. Three times, his tank was hit. The third such event, three months into his tour of duty, on the morning of January 17, 1969, they were involved in a sweep in the HoBo Woods, outside of Cu Chi, trying to push and block the enemy. The Viet Cong began launching RPGs at them; Larry was aware that one of their tanks got hit just before his was hit. Seven of our soldiers were wounded that morning, with Larry getting the worst of it. If it hadn't been for the quick thinking of his tank commander, Gary Mylam, of Kentucky, Larry would have bled to death. Mylam quickly took off his belt and tightened it around the stump that was left of Larry's leg. Then the medic gave him morphine.
Larry doesn't remember much after that. He guesses he was in a hospital in Vietnam for a couple of weeks, then he was sent to Japan where he underwent numerous surgeries, and finally was sent to the Eye Ward at the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, CA.
He was totally blind for three months but after an eye surgery, he was able to see a little out of one eye, but was still considered legally blind. Eventually, after more eye surgeries, he was able to see even better and was able to pass a driver's test, although barely. Larry is 70 now, and about 8 years ago he began to lose vision, and is now considered legally blind again.
After returning to the states from Vietnam, and after healing, he enrolled in college at San Francisco State, got his degree, eventually got married, got divorced, built a cabin, did woodworking (see pictures below of furniture he has made), sailing, sky-diving and has done more than most people do, but it hasn't been easy. He has considered his disability a part-time job because of all the work it involves with paperwork and VA benefits. He actually worked at the VA for awhile as a benefits counselor.
In recent years, Larry has had additional physical challenges as a result of the initial injury. He now lives with chronic pain in his back, shoulder and foot. From overuse of his one good foot, it began to hurt and have problems. Because of his disability he had a fall which resulted in a back fusion. So now, at 70, he is in a wheelchair, but can get around on crutches for short periods. He injured the rotator cuff in his shoulder as a result of his disability which had added stress to that arm. He made the decision not to have surgery on it because, not having the other hand, he would be completely laid up while it healed, and his body would grow weak. Larry says he hasn't had a choice, that he has just done what he had to do, but I say he made choices that have led him to living an independent life. He could have chosen to give up like many others have.
Through the years, I've seen him on two or three other occasions and one thing that impresses me about Larry is that he maintains a wonderful sense of humor and a positive attitude. He holds no resentments toward the Vietnamese nor toward our government, although he considers it a mistake for us to have been there.
Invisible fears hold many people back from following their dreams, but with Larry, his very visible limitations have never stopped him, he has pushed his boundaries to the max. Whenever I feel I can't do something, I think of Larry. His high level of energy, motivation, and drive is an inspiration to all who know him for he has not only fought the battles in Vietnam, but he has fought and overcome, every single day, the battle of loss and physical disability due to war. Lawrence Wesley Tomovick is a true American hero, and yes, like the quote above states, his impact has forever changed all who know him.
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