Veterans Stories: Tom Zampieri (10/31/2017) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Tom Zampieri's Story

In the Eye of the Hurricane


Tom Zampieri, District 6 Director of the Blinded Veterans Association in Texas had received a donation of tickets to the September 1st Astros baseball game against the New York Mets. He was looking forward to going with other BVA members.

But a storm was brewing, and soon everyone in Houston knew trouble was coming. Hurricanes are a fact of life in the South, but, we can all agree, this year was “unusual.” Tom shared the experience:

Harvey shattered all records in America, showering 52.4 inches of rain over just four days concentrated in a few hundred miles of our coast line. It was the highest ever recorded by the National Weather Service. It flooded 130,000 homes, roads, highways and businesses, and cost 70 people their lives.

The Greater Houston Regional Group of BVA was in ground zero of this storm for five days with 45 mph winds and 790 billion gallons of rainfall within the first three days. This was equivalent to collecting all the water going over Niagara Falls for 15 days and dumping it on the Houston area!

First responders, fire, police, coast guardsmen and volunteers were working non-stop to rescue everyone caught in the rising floodwaters. Suddenly, 6 million people, including 1,800 blind or low vision veterans in this small area, were caught in Harvey’s grasp. BVA members were among those being flooded out of their homes and moved to evacuation centers.

The task of rebuilding shattered lives from the flooding started immediately. In accordance with our motto “Blinded Veterans Helping Blinded Veterans,” we set out to offer emergency relief in the form of cash cards to those blinded veterans in need. Some refused, saying, “There are others who need it more than me.” But for others, it came just in time. On top of the flood damage to their home, Houston BVA member Richard Douglas’ wife had to have surgery. He wrote, “I personally, would like to say THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. You cannot know how badly we needed the $100 BVA gift card. With Jocelyn unable to work as of late, and now in the hospital, things have been a bit tight. There is still a steep hill to climb, but your efforts have helped me to get started upward.”

We knew that no one organization would be able to do everything, but by working in cooperation, we could bring together the expertise of organizations that could help our fellow blinded veterans and their families. We coordinated with city, county, state and federal agency programs and with other nonprofits. We brought together FEMA, the Red Cross and the Mayor’s office, as well as others involved in emergency disaster relief to a special meeting with some of our local BVA members and other blind veterans and their families on September 9th. Our veterans got help filling out FEMA paperwork so they could get relief as soon as possible. We got special phone numbers so that blind veterans could get the type of help they needed if they were displaced in any way.

We really appreciate everyone who donated and volunteered to assist our blinded veterans and their families during this emergency. It may take years to restore people’s lives, but we will be there!

 Veterans Stories: Nate Gorham (6/16/2017) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Nate Gorham's Story

Nate's Story

  Nate Gorham at the Boston Marathon.

The military life is a natural draw for physically active people. But when active people lose some or all of their vision, especially through traumatic circumstances, the change can disrupt their sense of self—who they are and how they move in the world. They may have thought of themselves as “take charge” people. Now, they may find themselves feeling isolated, withdrawn and dependent. It can be hard for them to find connection and opportunities, or even to understand their own capabilities until they learn to adjust to their change in vision.

That’s where the Blinded Veterans Association can be a truly transformational force. BVA offers connection, camaraderie and community with people who really understand. Just ask Nate Gorham.

Nate was living in a rural area of West Virginia. He was unable to drive, and public transportation was scarce. “I realized how dependent I was becoming on my father,” Nate said. “I thought: Something’s got to change. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not making progress. I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I was becoming more and more of a homebody. I thought: This is not me! This is not my style!

He moved to Florida, and soon got a call from then BVA Florida Regional President Terry King. “Terry said, ‘I’d like to talk to you and get you involved.’ I thought: Wow! There’s a great organization out there, and if nothing else, I can network with people who understand!” Terry encouraged him to go to the BVA Florida State Convention where he met BVA veterans Wade Davis, Danny Wallace and Lonnie Bedwell, among others.

“Lonnie invited me to come to Montana to go kayaking,” Nate said. “I’d never done it before. But I thought: Man, this is right up my alley! It was an awesome week. I suddenly felt whole again. I felt like I was supposed to feel, not like I was missing something. It was great. Since that trip, now, every time someone says, ‘Hey, do you want to do this? Do you want to climb? Do you want to run?’ I say: YES! YES! YES! This year, I even ran the Boston Marathon!”

BVA brought a sense of connection, and community into Nate’s life. He feels re-engaged and has a renewed sense of purpose. He said, “I think one of the biggest issues for veterans returning from combat and leaving a life of service is they miss the camaraderie. In the military, you form these great relationships—these strong bonds—you don’t find that anywhere else. BVA brings that back for me.”

 Veterans Stories: Aaron Hale (3/20/2017) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Aaron Hale's Story

Aaron's Story

  Aaron Hale and his fiancée McKayla Tracy

Before he was an Army Sgt. Team Leader in charge of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), Aaron Hale was a Navy Culinary Specialist. Today, he is once again making good use of those culinary skills.

He and his fiancée, McKayla Tracy, have started an online business, aptly named: EOD Fudge. The EOD in this name stands for Extra Ordinary Delights. Just reading the list of the fudge ingredients makes one’s mouth water: dark chocolate, white chocolate, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cherries, raspberries, espresso beans, cinnamon and mint — even Kentucky bourbon!

The business started by accident. Aaron had lost his vision from an IED blast. With the support of friends and family, and the help of the Blinded Veterans Association, he went through rehabilitation training and got involved in sports. And then, four years after the explosion, he came down with bacterial meningitis. “It stole what was left of my hearing, and left me without a sense of balance,” he said.

Suddenly, he was in complete silence and darkness, unable to even work out in his own gym because of his balance issues. “I felt trapped in my own body,” he said. “The coping skills I’d learned no longer worked for me. The technology that made print accessible — it was all audio. I hadn’t learned braille, because I didn’t think I needed to.”

“There I was sitting home again, feeling low, and heading into a downward spiral. I knew I had to do something. I fell back on one of my old loves — cooking. McKayla and I decided to invite our family and friends and have a huge Thanksgiving feast.”

Aaron began experimenting with different kinds of fudge, and he really started getting into it. Realizing that no family of any size would be able to eat all the fudge Aaron was making, McKayla started sneaking it out to give to friends and co-workers. “It’s not very difficult to be sneaky with a person who’s blind and deaf,” Aaron joked.

People started coming back and saying, “This fudge is terrific! Can we buy more from you?” And that’s where the idea to start a business was born.

Today, Aaron has cochlear implants. “It took a long time for the surgeries to heal,” he said. “And then your brain has to learn how to hear in a completely different way. It took a year before I could even speak on the phone.”

But he’s pretty happy about his life. “We have a job we enjoy. And we get to do it together,” he said. “It’s growing beyond our dreams. It’s easy to be optimistic with the family I have. And I can’t wait for October, when my fiancée will join my family.” And that’s cause for celebration.

Aaron’s ‘hobby’ quickly turned into a business thanks to his resourceful fiancée.

 Veterans Stories: Monaca Gilmore (12/21/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Monaca Gilmore's Story

Monaca's Story

  Monaca Gilmore

“I know what it means to feel lost,” said Monaca Gilmore, a retired Army Sergeant who returned from Iraq in 2006. After the armored vehicle behind hers in her convoy took the full force of an improvised explosive device, she was knocked unconscious.

She returned home with post traumatic stress, migraines, and vision problems, and ended up having to endure brain surgery. “For a while, I got lost in the VA health system,” she said. “But my Master Sergeant Paulette Bowen and her husband stood by me. They drove for hours to make sure I got the health care I deserved. Even now, if I need them, they’re there for me.”

Struggling to deal with her health issues, Monaca fell into a depression a couple of years ago. Danny Wallace was BVA’s National Sergeant-at-Arms at the time. “He reached out to me. I was ready to give up, but he encouraged me to keep fighting. He said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be all right. You got to keep pushing. We want you to get well. We want you to have some type of peace in your life.’ He got me into a lot of guided activities — golfing, fishing, hunting. I really do appreciate people 
like him.”

Today, Monaca is paying it forward by helping other blinded veterans. She is the first female BVA National Sergeant-at-Arms, and an active member of BVA’s Operation Peer Support and Project Gemini.

“I pray every day, not only for myself, but for all veterans out there — we shouldn’t have to be fighting for our medications and doctors appointments. We shouldn’t have veterans who are homeless. The VA has come a long way in the past eight years, but we still have a long way to go. It’s important that we stick together and help each other, and that means everybody.”

 Veterans Stories: Eric Marts (9/22/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Eric Marts's Story

Eric's Story

  Eric Marts, Master Sergeant (Ret.) with guide dog Deacon, is a member of the BVA Minnesota Regional Group.

“When I lost my vision to a roadside bomb in Iraq, I knew it was just a matter of time when I’d be facing retirement,” said Eric Marts, Master Sergeant (Ret.). “I was trying to find any reason I could to stay in the military.”

Like many supporters of the Blinded Veterans Association, Eric’s family is a military family. Every generation of his family — going all the way back to the Revolutionary War — has served. It’s in his DNA.

“I knew, one way or another, I wanted to continue to serve,” he said. “But there’s not that much room for a blind infantry sergeant. That’s when I started making plans for how I could take care of others: the soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors, members of the Coast Guard — and their families. One thing led to another.”

He began getting requests to tell his story. “I was never going to say no,” he said. “I’m a soldier.” When he spoke, audiencesresponded positively, and Eric decided to use his voice to become a voice for veterans. He does public presentations as a public service. And he hosts a talk radio show exploring veterans’ issues. His show, “Heroes of the Heartland” can be heard on WDAY News Talk Radio 970 AM in Fargo, ND, and on the web at

He doesn’t stop there. “Washington moves pretty slowly sometimes. I want to help veterans who are blind or disabled get the special adaptations they need to keep their homes safe. Simple things like intercoms so they know who’s at their door. I have friends who are severely burned and scarred — sunlight is now painful, and after all the skin grafts they’ve had, they no longer sweat. They could use special windows or netting so they can go outside on the deck. It’s important for these veterans to get outside.”

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., invited Eric to join her at President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2014. “To be able to attend such an honorable place where freedom and liberty and justice aren’t just ideals — this is where it happens,” he said. He visited the Pentagon, Walter Reed Hospital, and met with influential lawmakers, advocating on behalf of veterans’ needs.

Recently, with members of BVA’s Operation Peer Support, Eric had the opportunity to share his personal experiences with researchers studying the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on vision. The vision researchers attending the conference were from 75 nations, and their future findings have the potential to benefit anyone with TBI-related vision loss.

The most meaningful part of his service is the one-on-one with veterans. He listens. “I visit military and VA hospitals,” he said. “I do peer mentoring over the phone. I get calls from doctors at the VA. Sometimes, I get calls at 2 a.m. — a veteran is going through something hard and they need someone to talk to.”

Men and women who have served in the military understand what it means to “be there” for someone else. In battle, it’s a matter of life or death. For those who have sacrificed, life after service can be a different kind of challenge. But having people they know they can depend on makes all the difference. That’s at the core of BVA.

Blind veterans of WWII founded the Blinded Veterans Association. The motto: “Blinded veterans helping blinded veterans” stands true to this day. You might say: it is in our DNA.

 Veterans Stories: Dan Wallace (5/31/2016) 
   Blinded Veterans Association BVA Dan Wallace's Story

Dan's Story

Danny Wallace

A look at one man’s story may inspire many people, veterans or not, to help others overcome difficulties such as blindness. Consider the case of First Sergeant Danny Wallace (Ret.). He enlisted in the Army as an infantryman, completing one-stop training that included basic airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia.

He served for a total of 20 years as a rifleman, radio transmitter operator, team leader, squad leader, ranger instructor, platoon sergeant, company executive officer, and company first sergeant. During a tour in Iraq, Wallace’s life changed forever. Two weeks before Christmas, a car bomb attack in Tal Afar left him totally blind. After multiple surgeries—to attach both retinas, replace the cornea in his right eye, and stitch severe wounds to his face and neck—he was still blind in one eye but had limited vision in the other.

Wallace remained on active duty for two years after his injury. Upon retiring, he struggled with the transition to civilian life. “I felt distant and unwilling to participate in any veterans organization,” he recalled.

Finding Help

This isolation lasted about eight years. Then, he attended the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital just outside Chicago. There, he found out about the Blinded Veterans Association. Soon after that, BVA invited him to participate in its Operation Peer Support initiative, which connects combat-blinded veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam with the newly blinded who have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. Operation Peer Support activities also provide informational seminars that touch on topics such as education, rehabilitation through sports and recreation, technology, and career development.

It helped Wallace rediscover purpose in his life and the experience had a ripple effect as he now serves as a BVA peer mentor for newly blinded veterans such as Mark Wilson, who lost his sight as a result of a gunshot wound to his face. Wilson’s mother says that meeting Wallace through BVA has literally “transformed” her son.

Over the past two years, Wallace’s eyesight has begun to decline even further. Nevertheless, he remains driven to serve. And he is once again a Sergeant, this time for BVA. “Early in 2014, I had the privilege to be selected as the Sergeant-at-Arms for the Blinded Veterans Association,” he explained. “Words cannot express how grateful I am. Now it is my turn to help other veterans feel that they belong as well.”

 Veterans Stories: Bill Wedekind (8/17/2015) 

Bill's Story


Bill Wedekind, Vietnam War veteran and the only known blind, bilateral double-hand amputee potter in the world, addressed the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) 69th National Convention’s Father Carroll Memorial Luncheon on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.

Bill Wedekind

A life member of BVA and current resident of San Antonio, Texas, Wedekind was born in Manhattan, Kansas, as the first of five brothers. He was inspired to follow the family tradition and join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967, expecting it to be a lifelong career path. On May 25, 1968, his life permanently changed course when he was sent to inspect a defensive perimeter while serving in Vietnam. Never arriving at a certainty or remembrance as to what happened next, Wedekind nevertheless lost both eyes, one ear, and both hands in the explosion.

Wedekind’s grandmother, Myrtle Fichon, suggested pottery as a possible career for him and introduced him to the basics of the craft before he studied under accomplished potters at Kansas State University. He later received an advanced degree license as a ham radio operator and took up the building of race cars as a hobby. He also fearlessly uses power tools whenever he needs to build another shelf to hold his pottery. He has given pottery demonstrations and motivational speeches to a wide array of groups, including students of all ages, a minister’s group, inmates at correctional facilities, and potters at numerous shows, guilds, and seminars.

In 1976, the Disabled American Veterans honored Wedekind as the Arkansas Disabled Vet of the Year. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Combat V in 1968. Wedekind’s address was one of several highlights of the BVA convention, which occurred August 18-21. Some 150 blinded veterans and an additional 250 families, exhibitors, presenters, and friends of BVA participated in the four-day gathering.

The Father Carroll Luncheon event itself is named for Thomas J. Carroll, one of the blind rehabilitation field’s foremost pioneers of the 20th century and BVA’s National Chaplain from 1946 to 1971.

 Veterans Stories: Lonnie Bedwell (8/17/2015) 

Lonnie's Story

Kayaker Goes Solo Down Grand CanyonLonnie Bedwell

Lonnie Bedwell, a Navy veteran from the Indiana Regional Group, made history last August 21 by becoming the first totally blind kayaker ever to navigate the entire length of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.

Lonnie was guided by three other veterans from Team River Runner, who provided him with only voice commands during the 16-day, 226-mile journey. In addition to his record-breaking feat, Lonnie fulfilled a dream he has long shared with Team River Runner Executive Director Joe Mornini. Quoted in a news release published days after the trip, Lonnie described the feelings that accompanied the achievement.

“Running the Grand Canyon was a dream for Joe and me, and now that dream has become a reality,” the quote stated. “I hope that other disabled persons will be able to share this feeling with me one day and achieve their dreams as well.”

Lonnie started kayaking only some four years ago after attending a Team River Runner event during which he learned the basics of kayaking.

 Veterans Stories: Jim Hogan (8/17/2015) 

Jim's Story


Jim Hogan and AtticusJames Hogan, a longtime member of the Southern California Regional Group of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and a volunteer with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System for the past 12 years, has been recognized as VA’s National Male Volunteer of the Year.

The official award presentation will occur during the 69th Annual VA Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee Meeting and Conference held April 22-24, 2015 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

James Hogan, a resident of Canyon Country, California, has logged more than 2,800 hours of voluntary service during his tenure. He is one of 260 BVA volunteers nationwide performing 34,177 hours of service during BVA’s Fiscal Year 2014 (July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014).

James’ dedicated service has also involved his wife, Pam, who volunteers with him. In addition, his guide dog of nine years, Atticus, has worked as a therapy dog for VA Healthcare System patients.

James performs a multitude of volunteer tasks as a VA volunteer, serving blind and visually impaired veterans who are enrolled in the Visual Impairment Service Team (VIST) program. As such, he helps veterans attend fishing trips by arranging transportation and for them. He also helps organize monthly VIST Support Group activities. One of his specialties is also outreach to younger Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and their families regarding benefits, adjustment to disability, and educational opportunities. He also actively serves his fellow blinded veterans within his BVA regional group.

James visits regularly with veterans at the Sepulveda VA Community Living Center and Hospice and mobilizes the local Disabled American Veterans chapter to bring food goodies and cheer to hospitalized patients. Accompanied by Pam and Atticus, he visits veterans at the California State Veterans Homes in the Cities of Lancaster, Ventura, Barstow, and West Los Angeles.

James, Pam, and Atticus work with Vietnam Veterans of America on their annual Homeless Stand Downs in Ventura and Antelope Valley, California. They help the Elks raise funds for their annual veterans’ luncheon at their lodge and drive Boy Scouts to place more than 6,000 flags on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, James Hogan was diagnosed with hearing loss as a young boy and quickly began utilizing hearing devices. Determined to fulfill his dream of serving his country, he enlisted in the Navy following graduation from high school in 1966. After serving 4½ years in Vietnam combat areas, he re-entered civilian life in 1973. Ten years later, he was diagnosed with Ushers II, a degenerative disease that causes both vision and hearing loss.

Despite his setbacks, James has worked relentlessly to maintain his active lifestyle. He, Pam, and Atticus are often seen riding through town on a Lightfoot Duo Recumbent Cycle, a side-by-side, two-seat quadracycle they obtained after a refresher course James took at the Palo Alto VA Blind Rehabilitation Center in 2012. He has also been an avid spokesman on behalf of those with hearing loss for the HearStrong Foundation. Last year he was proclaimed as a HearStrong champion by the organization.

 Veterans Stories: Steve Baskis (8/14/2015) 

Steve's Story

Steve BaskisTwenty-five-year-old Steve Baskis (PFC, US Army) survived a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. Flying shrapnel hit Steve’s head, arms and legs. A traumatic brain injury and nerve damage left him blinded. 

When he woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, Steve remembers that one of the first people who visited him was a blinded veteran from BVA named Tom. Tom said he’d help Steve apply for blind rehabilitation and assist him during his recovery. Both Tom and Steve kept their promises, and their friendship.

Today, Steve has taken up mountain climbing. He says that BVA is one of the reasons he was able to find purpose and fulfillment in life again:

 “This organization has people who really care, and I am one who has benefited from their care. BVA has provided me with resources and information I would have never found on my own.”

Read about one of his climbing adventures in Steve’s own words:

The View from the Top

by Steve Baskis


Just last year, as many of you already know, I lost my sight in the Middle East as I served in the United States Army. At that point in my life, it was my dream to be a part of the famed Green Berets or the Army’s Special Forces. I looked forward to the challenges of the future and I thought I knew what they would be.

But, when you serve in a dangerous place, you can never lose your concentration or take your mind off of what you are doing, not for a minute or even a second. You never know what may be lurking around the corner, as was the case for me on May 13, 2008.

Now, a year and a half after the blast, I am doing very well. Nevertheless, the challenges I expected before my injuries have been of a very different nature, and it has been a long road. In the first place, I literally fought for my survival during the first couple of weeks at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Then there were white cane and other mental and emotional frustrations at the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Hines.

All the while, I received tremendous amounts of support from family, friends, and organizations. But that’s not all—there’s so much more. I met the greatest person alive, someone with whom I wish to spend my whole life and who has brought me light when all I see is darkness. And still I want to push ahead even more and not be satisfied with the status quo. Those who don’t already know me must know that I love life. And there is no better way to live life than to experience what the world has to offer.

I have been able to do so many things during the past year, both because I want to and because of great people. My recent trip is only the latest example.
On Friday, November 6, I left Chicago for Mexico City, but I was certainly not alone. There were many other individuals from different parts of the world making the same journey. We gathered at the Mexico City International Airport to begin an expedition that would eventually lead us to the summit of the third tallest volcano in Mexico.

Global Explorers was the organization that lead the way and directed the program, spearheaded by the famous blind climber Erik Weihenmayer and several amazing staff members who have made many trips possible for young high school and university students. Erik personally invited me along for the adventure. I can’t thank enough, both him and everyone else involved, for providing the experience.

This was something that had never been done in Mexico. There were two parties of blind individuals, one from the U.S. and one from Mexico. The group included ten blind and visually impaired individuals from all walks of life, but there were many more that assisted us. If I am not mistaken, the count totaled more than 30. Before we climbed, there was some immersion training that occurred. This took place in Amecameca, located about 90 minutes by car from Mexico City. We were shuttled out to a hotel named Hacienda Panoaya. Here we met the rest of the team to climb Iztaccíhuatl.

The Sierra Nevada is the region’s most important mountain range. The average altitude of the range is 4,000 meters above sea level. It ends with the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes. Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl are the second and third highest mountains in Mexico with an altitude of 5,452 and 5,284 meters, respectively. Amecameca is next to the volcanoes, located 2,419 meters above sea level. All of the rivers, streams, and springs result from the constant glacier melt in the Sierra Nevadas. Word is that Mexican ancestors worshipped the mountains, especially the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl Peaks, which were considered gods. To give you an idea of its size, Iztaccíhuatl is taller than any mountain in the lower 48 states.

At the hotel, I met some great people: Michelle, Eric, Terry, and Eliza. These individuals made up our team. Although they were younger than I, they were all very mature and intelligent. After introductions, we set off to learn about the surrounding area. One of the main projects was to help paint a school and plant trees in a town outside Amecameca. The townspeople gathered to help paint. They also prepared a wonderful traditional Mexican lunch for us.

Two days later, on November 8, we were ready to go to base camp, which was near the bottom of the volcano. A van transported us to camp, taking about an hour and a half to get there from Amecameca.

The next morning, November 9, we climbed 75 percent of the way to “high camp” in order to acclimate ourselves. We got a true taste of the terrain that day. We felt the frozen mud beneath us right away. This gave us great traction to hike up the steep slopes. Here and there the terrain would become more sandy and rocky. Navigating through large and small gauntlets, we protected ourselves by using our trekking poles. When we hit broken up rock and sand, I knew we were in for a workout. Trying to keep our balance and footing on the steep slopes was always tricky.

After climbing along steep ridges and boulders, we finally made it to our turnaround point. Another group traveled ahead for another 30 minutes but then turned around and headed back down the volcano toward base camp.

The next day, November 10, we climbed the rest of the way to high camp, where we stayed until the following morning so we could make our attempt on the summit. This day was memorable because of the increased communication among the guides and the blind. The weather was superb with no rain or wind to hinder us. We were truly blessed with good conditions.

Again we navigated the route we had already blazed. When we reached the turnaround point we had used the day before, we kept on climbing, this time to our goal of high camp. We ditched the trekking poles in climbing the more “technical” areas. This was not easy for me with my bad arm. Those familiar with my situation know that I have poor circulation and dexterity in my left arm due to my injuries in Iraq. It was a long day of hiking and climbing but we indeed made it to high camp.

The porters had set up camp and all we had to do was move into our tents. The night was filled with a combination of chitchat and snoring. Some slept great while others didn’t catch a wink. The fact that I heard both chitchat and snoring is evidence that I did not sleep well. Although many complained of altitude sickness, I did not have the symptoms they had, which were nausea, stomach pain, and headache. I believe I slept poorly mostly because my feet were so cold.

“Summit Day” was also Veterans Day, November 11.

Everyone awoke to a chilly morning. My hands and feet were even colder after I left the tent. Because the air is thinner at a high altitude, there is less oxygen in the body, making it more difficult to breathe and do strenuous activities. I knew this before but now I was experiencing it. I also got hit with the fact that a lack of oxygen also makes one’s limbs colder.

I knew that the best thing to do was to get moving but, at the same time, I thought of going no further and making high camp my personal summit. Erik and Jeff talked me out of it. The reason I thought of stopping was that I couldn’t feel my left arm.

I did my best to hold onto the trekking pole and climb with the rest of the group. Slowly but surely the sun rose and it became warmer. We reached an area where our lead guide, Hector, set up ropes to help us climb the steep rock face.

In the distance I could hear faint shouts and screams. Some of the teams had made it to the top already! The radios carried by some would crackle, and I could hear crying and the sharing of the experience of being at the summit. It was so close now for me. There was no turning back.

My own guide, Alfredo, then led me to the top. I stood there with everyone else as the sun rose out of the clouds. It was truly an amazing daybreak on Veterans Day. Thank you for taking the time to learn of my great experience. I hope everyone will reach for their dreams and goals on every scale and at every level, as we did on this marvelous trip. Live your life to the fullest and never give up!

Kennan Horn’s Story

          By Chet Curtis

Growing up in Northeastern Oklahoma, Kennan Horn always knew he’d join the Army. Like his dad and older brother before him, he thought it was the thing to do.  “My dad was in the Army during the Vietnam era and my older brother was in the Army when I enlisted,” said Horn.  “I also had two half-brothers in the Air Force,” he said.

After graduating high school in 1986, Horn enlisted in the Army Reserves as an infantryman where he served in the 1/377th, 95th Infantry Division in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

His grandmother provided great encouragement to complete college, which he eventually did by completing a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Northeastern State University. After completing his degree, Horn was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, Air Defense Officer.  The veteran of Desert Shield/Desert Storm had many operational assignments to include service in the 101st Airborne Division, 25th Light Infantry Division, and 10th Mountain Division, culminating as the Professor of Military Science at the University of Oklahoma. 

During his career in the Army he always knew something was wrong with his vision. “I kept going back to the docs but they kept sending me to optometrist after optometrist who never dilated my eyes and they never gave me a field of vision test,” he said

While in Turkey in 2006, he began having bad headaches and, during a visit to a Turkish ophthalmologist, was told he had an eye disease.  “I didn’t think anything about it,” said Horn.


Once back in the United States at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, he asked for an eye test during his son’s visit to the base optometrist.  After being given two field of vision tests, he was referred to the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City where they did an Electroretinogram (ERG), a test in which the electrical potentials generated by the retina of the eye are measured when the retina is stimulated by light. This test confirmed he had a rare genetic disorder named retinitis pigmentosa or RP.

“At first it just didn’t hit me how it was going to change my life,” said Horn.  “Nobody talked to me about it.  I didn’t get any counseling.  From the time when they first told me in Turkey up until I went to the Dean McGee Eye Institute, I thought (it) my vision impairment was something that was treatable.  I didn’t have any idea.”


Soon after, his VIST Coordinator introduced Horn to a Vietnam veteran who also had RP.  “It was really refreshing because now I had somebody I could talk to that had kind of done the things I’ve done, said Horn. 


It didn’t take long for Horn to explore other associations.  “One of my veteran friends, who’s paralyzed, was a member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), so I remember thinking to myself I bet there’s a Blinded Veterans Association.  And I just looked it up and sure enough, I found it,” Said Horn. Things soon changed for Horn. After a year of BVA membership, Horn was nominated and received the BVA 2017 Major General Melvin J. Maas Achievement Award for professional achievement.


“My wife, Catherine, and I had been talking about going to a BVA convention for some time, but when I won the Maas Award it was kind of like now I’ve really got to go,” said Horn.  “We went and had a spectacular time.  I can’t begin to tell you,” He said.  It was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me in the last couple of years.”


Meeting people at Convention who cope with the same challenges he and his wife deal with on a daily basis was a positive learning experience for Horn.“Just being able to talk to people that deal with the same things me and my wife deal with, and sharing information was really important.” He said. “It motivated me.” 


And what does Horn see in his future?


“I want to do some stuff with the visually impaired community, whether it’s with veterans or not, because I think there’s a story to tell, he said.

“I still consider myself fortunate, even blessed, but moreover to be able to be in the company of folks that gathered at the BVA convention was the highlight of my 2017.  I appreciate that opportunity.  Hopefully I can do something in return, give back a little bit, and be a good, positive member.”