Klay South prowls the hallways of Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, visiting wounded warriors and making life a bit easier for them. Some patients are amputees, some severely burned. Others are scarred and disfigured by torso or facial wounds. South, a Marine Corps veteran, isn't motivated by sympathy. He relates to these troops because of his own combat experience.
On Veterans Day 2004, during the first battle of Fallujah, South was struck in the face and leg by bullets fired from an insurgent's AK-47 rifle. A field tracheotomy saved his life, and since then he's endured more than 40 surgeries and procedures to reconstruct his face. When he visits wounded warriors, he knows their pain. He can look them in the eyes and honestly tell them that life will get better.
South, 33, is the founder of Veterans of Valor, a nonprofit organization formed to help meet the needs of severely wounded servicemembers with specific items, services and programs. During his hospital visits, South distributes hundreds of backpacks with iPods or Sony PlayStations, zip-up hoodies, breakaway pants and other items. Each backpack is valued at more than $500.
"I know what these brave men and women are going through," said South, after visiting a double-amputee patient. "I have a titanium jaw. I lost 22 teeth and 20 percent of my tongue. Physical recovery is sometimes easier than the mental or emotional aspects of healing. I want them to think down the road, not about their current condition. Things will get better. I've survived the journey, and they will, too."
Besides hospital visits, South invites wounded warriors, their families and caregivers to an evening away from the hospital. During his San Antonio visit, 700 servicemembers and guests enjoyed food, games and camaraderie at a Dave & Buster's restaurant. Eighty members of the Texas American Legion, Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion volunteered to pair up with wounded servicemembers and help in any way they could – even if it meant just listening.
Delegates at The American Legion's 91st National Convention in Louisville, Ky., unanimously passed Resolution 108 to support the Veterans of Valor program.
"It's ‘game on' with The American Legion family," said South, watching Texas Legion volunteers interacting with wounded Marines and soldiers. "I am amazed at the turnout of Texas Legionnaires on such short notice. Legionnaires want to do something. It's what the Legion is all about."
South said he's also grateful that members from his own Legion home – Post 252 in Greenwood, Ind., along with two other Indiana posts in Carmel and Speedway – donated money and materials.To learn more about the program, visit www.veteransofvalor.org .