'I Never Felt Sorry for Myself'
June 17, 2009
- "Life is a challenge. You just meet the challenges as they come along," he said.
- You can't feel sorry for yourself because in the final analysis it's your job to rehabilitate yourself. I never felt sorry for myself.
- "We were called the 90-day wonders," he said. "We went to school three months and then they gave you a commission. "
- "Kids are drowning in things," he said. "They can't clearly see for themselves a goal in life. "
Back in the 1950s, when the Army's leg amputees were shackled with cumbersome wooden appendages, one Soldier did not let his combat injury keep him from being the first amputee to complete Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga.
But, then, Ralph Cloud didn't let his amputation keep him from much in life. After being wounded in the Korean War, he served in the Army for seven years with an artificial limb. The opportunity to attend OCS came in 1957.
"I was the only fellow who went through the course as an amputee," Cloud said. "There were a lot of amputees at Walter Reed when I was there. But to the best of my knowledge I was the first to go through Fort Benning's advanced course as an amputee."
Today, this 86-year-old World War II and Korean War veteran lives in Madison with his wife, Gisela. Their daughter, Garrison intern Charlotte Cloud, and their granddaughter live nearby. Cloud now sports the latest in prosthetic technology and has memories of a life filled with opportunities, accomplishments and the determination to succeed. On his walls and in his photo albums are the medals of a hero - Purple Hearts, a World War II Victory Medal, an Army Occupation Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge, Korea Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal and other military medals along with academic achievement medals.
"Life is a challenge. You just meet the challenges as they come along," he said.
Cloud is matter-of-fact about his devastating war injury, which led to the loss of his right leg all the way to mid-thigh. Instead of dwelling on the loss, he has always focused on the possibilities of living a full life with his wife and his three daughters and, now, his grandchildren.
But those early months as an amputee were a struggle.
"In those days, they made the leg as heavy as a normal leg. It had a free swing, which means there was no break mechanism for the knee," he said.
Cloud looked beyond what the Army had to offer in the way of artificial limbs to discover the use of plastics in Germany that would provide him with a stable knee-lock system. It was that knee-lock system that allowed the aspiring Soldier to attend OCS.
And yet his war injury did force him to give up some of his dreams.
"I ended up at Fort Benning arranging parades and other community work. The Army couldn't use me anymore to lead a group of troops," he said. "Exactly one month short of 17 years after I enlisted - on Feb. 28, 1958 - the Army retired me on disability."
Again, Cloud was not going to let his injury get him down. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity. He went on to obtain his college degree and then a doctorate from the University of Georgia, where he often used a scooter to get to class. He then taught at the University of Alabama-Huntsville and Alabama A&M University.
Cloud said he has enjoyed his life by looking forward.
"Keep on keeping on," he said, referring to his life's philosophy.
"Don't get depressed. It's just another challenge that you have to overcome. You can't feel sorry for yourself because in the final analysis it's your job to rehabilitate yourself. I never felt sorry for myself. I never said the words 'Poor me.' I'm lucky to be alive and I don't expect support from anyone."
Cloud comes from a military family. His father served in the Seacoast Artillery, Army Air Force. Cloud's older brother, a 1934 West Point graduate, died as a major in North Africa in 1943. Another brother served 30 years in the Air Force.
Cloud enlisted in the Army in March 1941, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. He aspired to attend West Point, like his older brother, but was just shy of passing the entrance exam. His first assignment was as a weather observer for the Army Air Force, where he sent messages in code at 62.5 words a minute via teletype.
Cloud reapplied to West Point and was admitted as a sergeant for the 1943-44 school year. But he had trouble with mathematics and was not allowed to continue. He re-enlisted and attended the Army's officer infantry school at Fort Dix, N.J.
"We were called the 90-day wonders," he said. "We went to school three months and then they gave you a commission. It was wartime, and there was a desperate need for infantry lieutenants at all levels."
Cloud served as a second lieutenant during the occupation of Europe from 1945-48. It was during that assignment that he met his wife, who was a Czech citizen.
In September 1951, Cloud joined Army forces for another war on the front lines north of Pyongyang, Korea, which is now the capital of North Korea. He was serving with the 7th Cavalry of the 1st Division.
"The Red Chinese and North Koreans objected to us taking over the territory. About 10 days after we got there, we were attacked north of Pyongyang," he recalled. "We counter attacked the third of October and that's when I go hit by a mortar shell. My leg was shattered above the ankle. Both bones were broken. I ripped off my belt and tightened it above my knee. Then my leg got infected and was amputated in Japan above the knee."
Though missing a leg, Cloud and his battle buddies saw the injury as a new possibility.
"It was considered a golden wound because it rotated you all the way back to the States," he said. "I was up front a total of maybe three days and then I got whacked. I was in and out. It was fast, fast, fast."
By early 1952, Cloud was ready to return to active duty, although he was limited due to his injury. Cloud requested permission to go to Germany, where he was assigned from 1953-56. During that time, his artificial limb was fitted with an Otto Bock knee made from plastics. The new knee provided Cloud with the stability he needed to continue as a Soldier, graduate from OCS and then pursue a career as a college professor.
Both Cloud and his wife taught at the college level, first at UAH and then at A&M. Cloud taught business and accounting courses, and his wife taught comparative literature and German courses. Both retired in 1982 and lived for 20 years in Germany before returning to the U.S. While their youngest daughter works at Redstone Arsenal, another daughter and a grandson have served in the military.
Cloud worries about the future of today's young people.
"Kids are drowning in things," he said. "They can't clearly see for themselves a goal in life. And if you don't know where you are going in life, any road will take you there. In the end, you still have to ask 'What do I want to do with my life''"
For Cloud, he feels he has answered that question wholeheartedly. His life is a testament to the possibilities open to a Soldier who is determined and committed, and who is always looking forward.