Not only did he successfully pass the grueling exams, but his scores and times were better than when he originally joined the squad four years earlier. Now he is America's only amputee firefighter. He credits today's high-tech materials and prosthetic technology for his comeback.
Army Reserve Master Sgt. William Bud McLeroy has probably lived several lifetimes in his 48 years: racecar driver, firefighter, Soldier –all despite having his leg amputated. On September 26, 1993, McLeroy was competing in an off-road racing competition in Plaster City, east of his native San Diego. This race was a preparation for Baja 1000, the big race on the circuit.
During the race his engine quit, so he and his co-driver pulled over to the side of the dirt road. McLeroy got out and tried to restart the engine. The passing race cars created a dust cloud that made him and his car invisible. A car going over 90 mph struck him, knocking him off his feet and into the air.
Not realizing the extent of his injury, McLeroy tried to get on his feet to avoid being hit by another car but was unable to stand. The other driver had stopped to render aid, and the look of fear on his face made McLeroy realize the extent of his injury. His leg was almost totally severed below the knee.
McLeroy managed to apply his own tourniquet, and then called his own life flight medevac, which delivered him to a hospital within 45 minutes. This saved his life.
After 14 hours of surgery, McLeroy spent three days in intensive care.
About a week and a half later, his doctor walked asked him, “Well young man, what do ya think, what are we gonna do? Are we gonna save it or are we gonna take it?”
“Save what or take what?” asked McLeroy.
The doctor explained that in order to save the leg, McLeroy would have to undergo a three-year process of reconstructive surgery. Even so, the muscle that raises and lowers his foot could not be replaced, so he would not have use of his foot.
His other option was to have the leg amputated below the knee. With a prosthesis, McLeroy would be able to walk in three months. McLeroy decided in a heartbeat to “take it off.”
McLeroy maintained a positive attitude throughout an experience that causes major depression in many others. When asked if he went through depression he replied, “No, I was too busy having fun.”
McLeroy maintained his sense of humor, joking that, “there are pros and cons to having one leg. The pro—my wife says my feet only smell half as bad; the cons are I can only count up to 15. I only have one foot to wash, but when I go swimming, I just kick around in a circle.”
When asked if he went through any after surgery depression, McLeroy said “No, I was too busy having fun. The only thing I lost that day was 10 pounds; I didn’t lose anything else.”
McLeroy stated that a limb does not make a person.
“It’s what‘s in your heart. It’s the drive that every man or woman has to do the things they want in life to succeed.”
Despite the injury, McLeroy continued to pursue his professional goals. After two and a half months on his prosthesis, he was cleared to return to full duty as a firefighter (his civilian occupation in San Diego) making him the first professional “one legged firefighter in the US.”
Next, he approached his Army Reserve doctor to determine if he could continue to serve. The doctor had served with Gen. Tommy Franks, also an amputee, during the first Gulf War. When McLeroy stated that he could run the Army Physical Fitness Test, the doctor told him, “If a general can stomp around in the desert with just one leg, you can too.”
McLeroy went before a medical review board and was allowed to stay in the military. He stresses that technology has come a long way, allowing Soldiers who have lost arms or legs to still be an asset.
“We are very capable,” said McLeroy. “We’ll always have a role to play in the military if allowed to serve.”
His return to the Army, however, required will and determination. McLeroy’s first APFT after the accident was very painful; his scar tissue had not healed, and he had not run more than one mile at a time. He took the test with his Opposing Forces (OPFOR) unit. In pain and wiping blood from his prosthesis, McLeroy noticed his whole unit just staring at him.
“Now there’s a deciding moment. What do you tell them? Am I a leader or a guy just looking for sympathy? So I said let us go to work. I’m still walking forward (and) I’m not ready to walk back yet.”
McLeroy passed the APFT and continued his Army Reserve career. He was the first amputee to serve a tour in Iraq.
Far from seeking sympathy, McLeroy looks at losing his leg as the “biggest blessing that ever could have happened.” He enjoys life and cherishes things a little bit more. In addition, says he probably accomplished more than he would have had he not lost his leg. He just has to do things a little differently.
One of McLeroy’s few regrets is not being able to join Charlie Company, 12th Special Forces, and a reserve unit in San Diego. He was ready to sign up just before the accident but was unable to join the team with just one leg. Instead of giving in to discouragement, he started skydiving with an amputee skydive group and now jumps on his own.
“I’m not running away from anybody or anything.” he said. “And you really can’t. I have seen many guys lose legs, (and) lose arms and give up. They think the world has ended. The world doesn’t end because you lose a couple of toes or you lose a leg. Matter of fact it’s the beginning of life. I look at it as being more of a challenge.”
McLeroy claimed whatever he has accomplished can be done by anyone else.
“I’m nothing special; I’ll tell you right now and upfront. And I need everybody to know that. You just have to have the desire to go forward.
McLeroy has helped other people who are missing limbs overcome the physical disability and continue their career, including as a firefighter from England who lost a leg. He went to court with another firefighter from Los Angeles to support his right to remain with the fire department.
“It’s opening up doors, it’s letting people have the opportunity to go do things and enjoy life and achieve their goals.”
Military service has always been important to the McLeroys. His family fought on both sides during the Civil War, and a great-great-grandfather was a scribe for George Washington. McLeroy’s initial goal was to make E6, the same rank at which his father retired from the Navy. Now despite the loss of his leg, he has surpassed that goal—and has not finished yet.
Army Reserve Public Affairs