Central Texas Heroes: Leonard Riddle

Veteran Leonard Riddle

He signed up for the U.S. military with the conviction to serve our country in Vietnam.

But traumatic injuries while on duty at home kept him from going.

And his injuries were so intense he still suffers from physical problems.

Leonard Riddle shared his story in our Central Texas Heroes report.

"I remember hearing things in the hospital and I remember hearing the doctor say, 'if this boy don't change his will he's going to die," Riddle told us.

Riddle's first memory after suffering a life changing accident is still fresh in his mind.

But so is the life before it all took place.

Growing up landlocked in Colorado he always wondered about a life at sea.

That's why he signed up for the Navy in 1969.

But basic training in San Diego was the closest he got.

"After they tested me they said no you've got a mechanical mind. I said yeah, I can take anything apart. I don't know if I can put it back together though," he said.

He was trained to work on jets and ended up stationed at the once operational chase field near Beeville in South Texas.

But an injury working on a plane set him on a life changing course.

"A guy came out to change some breaks and I said you don't need to take those tie downs loose because the wind is too high. It's going to blow it off the jack. And it did and the wing hit me in the back," he said.

The doctors put him on a drug he'd never heard of before.

"They told me don't drink while you're on this. I said ok, I understand. But they never told me not to drive," Riddle told us.

In fact he was asked to drive some personnel to a bus station in nearby Beeville.

It turns out they put him on Valium, a relatively new drug at the time.

He said, "I'd never taken anything stronger than aspirin growing up."

Riddle got the men to the bus station safely but the last thing he remembers about the trip home was driving past the city limit sign.

Riddle said, "there was a bridge just outside the main gate and I met it, I hit the bridge and ripped the whole driver's side off the car."

He ended up in the hospital unconscious about four days before he woke up.

"Just about cut my leg off, busted all the toes in my left foot, shattered my collar bone, I had broken ribs, I had teeth knocked out,
punctured lung," he told us.

For 11 months he recovered in an Army hospital since the Naval hospital in Corpus Christi had been damaged by a hurricane.

The combat veterans he met suffered burns and lost limbs among other injuries.

A helicopter door gunner from Kansas who became his close friend had an especially long, difficult recovery.

"They got shot down from what I understood and when it came down it landed on his legs and shattered his legs. He got one arm shot off and burns from the crash," Riddle said.

The wounded made unbelievable sacrifices for the U.S.

And Riddle said especially considering the way veterans were treated when they returned they relied on each other to get through it.

They still do.

Riddle said, "we had a tough job, we didn't have the banners when we came back, all the guys. But we're still brothers and we support each other and that's what it calls for."