At long last!
Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment in a series of stories about Harry Shaw, a Port Aransas man who lost his legs to injuries he suffered while serving as a U.S. Army paratrooper in the Grenadan conflict. The series traces Shaw’s experiences from his childhood to present, as he attempts to walk again for the first time in nearly three decades. Twenty-seven years after leg injuries in combat ended his career as an Army paratrooper, Harry Shaw has a new pair of limbs, and now he plans to jump out of a plane again.
And he’s inviting everyone to jump with him.
Shaw, 48, of Port Aransas, is scheduled to sky dive near Rosharon, south of Houston, on Saturday, Oct. 23. He said he’s looking forward to the jump. It’s been nearly three decades since he last parachuted – something that he did regularly back when he was a soldier.
“I miss it, truth be known. It’s like a part of you that’s gone – another part of you that’s been missing,” Shaw said, referring both to the loss of his legs and his Army career.
“It was pretty much my identity.”
When he was 21 years old, Shaw was part of the American military forces that invaded Grenada in 1983. He lost both of his legs to friendly fire.
After healing up from nearly fatal injuries, Shaw tried using prosthetic limbs for several months. But there were problems. The scar tissue on his legs was irritated, and the prosthetics of that era were so heavy that Shaw decided they were more trouble than they were worth.
He stayed in a wheelchair for nearly three decades. He also didn’t do any parachuting during that time, though he continued to feel a kinship with those who do.
On March 25 this year, a group of skydivers was making jumps over Port Aransas when one of them, 34-year-old Peter Gerencser of Hungary, fatally crashed into the roof of a condominium at 11th Street and Beach Access Road 1-A. When Shaw heard of the tragedy, he felt compelled to offer condolences to Gerencser’s fellow skydivers.
Shaw drove to Mustang Beach Airport, where he found a group of the skydivers getting ready to go on another jump.
When the skydivers noticed a decal that says “U.S. Paratrooper” on Shaw’s truck, they asked him if he’d like to parachute again. Shaw said he’d considered it. The skydivers suggested that he attend Airborne Amputee, a Houston area event put on by the TMC Orthopedic firm. The event raises money for a charity organization founded by TMC. Called Limbs of Love, the charity provides prosthetics for people who can’t afford them.
Airborne Amputee tries to highlight the abilities of amputees and advocate awareness of amputees, said Joe Sansone, chief executive officer of TMC.
The event also is meant to reward war veterans like Shaw, Sansone said.
Shaw called longtime friend Jean-Luc Nash, who who took part in the Grenada invasion as an Army captain and helped save Shaw’s life after he was wounded. Shaw asked his old buddy if he would travel from his home in Florida to parachute with him in Houston. Nash accepted the invitation.
The two men and their families traveled to Houston for the event May 1 and 2, but after they got there, Shaw was told there was no harness available that would fit him. Jump officials were afraid that Shaw’s legs were so short that he might slip out of a harness.
Shaw was angry and dejected at the news that he wouldn’t be allowed to jump. But Sansone told him he could jump at a later date. With some fitting work, Sansone said, the company could get Shaw into a short prosthesis that would keep him in a harness at a future jump.
It was also during that Houston trip that Shaw talked to a prosthetist who worked for Sansone and learned that he could get a full set of prosthetic legs that would get him up and walking again.
Not long after that, Shaw traveled again to Houston and acquired a pair of high-tech artificial limbs made of titanium and carbon graphite fiber. They were far superior to the prosthetics of the mid-1980s.
During the summer, Shaw enrolled at a facility called the Center for the Intrepid, to get the physical therapy he needed to make his new legs work. A part of Brooke Army Medical Hospital, the Center for the Intrepid serves mostly military personnel who have been catastrophically disabled in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shaw still is undergoing therapy at the Center for the Intrepid. But, throughout the past several months, he has been planning to do a parachute jump. Prosthetics would allow a fit with a special harness, he said.
Shaw called around to locate the special harness. That led him to Jay Stokes, an Arizona parachutist who regularly takes disabled folks skydiving. Stokes said he will travel to Texas to do the jump in tandem with Shaw.
According to Popular Mechanics magazine, Stokes holds a world record for most sky dives in one day, doing 640 of them during a 24-hour period in 2006, in Greensburg, Ind. Shaw is going to make the jump with the assistance of Limbs of Love and Airborne Amputee.
At press time this week, about 15 people had signed up to jump with Shaw, said Leslie O’Donnell, director of communication for Limbs of Love. She said there could end up being many more.
(Folks who would like to sky dive with Shaw should go to www.airborneamputee. com and follow directions on the Web site for signing up for the event, O’Donnell said.)
Shaw said he chose Oct. 23 for the jump because it’s the closest weekend to the actual 27th anniversary of his service injuries.
Nash is among those planning to jump with Shaw. He is traveling all the way from his Florida home to Texas to do the jump. That’s the kind of thing fellow paratroopers do for each other, he said. It’s a brotherhood.
“I just feel like, with all the things Harry has gone through, if I didn’t jump with Harry … I would end up having to turn in my jump wings,” Nash said. “There’s no way to turn him down. I feel like it’s an honor that he wants to jump together.”
Shaw “is an inspiration to all of us,” Nash said. “He never felt sorry for himself. He never used anything as an excuse. He has just gone for it.”