Talk for Hope: Vietnam Wounded Warrior Inspires with his Attitude


A story not silenced. A silver-haired man in a white t-shirt and jeans was going through Atlanta airport’s TSA in a wheelchair. He had no legs and only one arm. I thought to myself, how does he get into the airplane seat? How does he get over the thin ramp into the plane with the wheelchair? He was traveling alone. Does an airport employee lift him up or would that be too much risk?

While collecting my bags from the belt, I watched as TSA patted him down, feeling around his waist, his leg stump, and drooping sleeve.  When they were done with him, I handed him his bag embroidered with the words “Freedom Isn’t Free.”

“Where are you off to?” I asked.

He replied, “Branson, Missouri.”

I had lectured there and knew what kind of town it was; very touristy; a combination of Vegas and Orlando. “Oh, are you going as a tourist?”  I asked with some doubt.
“No. I’m speaking at a Vet conference.”  OK, now I knew I was speaking to a kindred spirit.

“I’m a speaker too! I speak about surviving stage IV oral cancer. I just spoke in Vegas and I’m off to Anaheim, but I’m taking a detour home to attend the funeral of my father-in-law. How many lectures do you give a year?”


“Wow – that’s a lot. You travel by yourself?”

“Sure do. I am blessed.” He said in his southern drawl. We walked, I mean traveled, toward the elevator chatting.

“How do you get into the airplane seat? Do they help you?”

“No. I can get around with the strength in my arm and torso.”

“So, I guess they have a ramp for your to get onto the speaking podiums?”

“Yes, but when they don’t, I don’t mind being picked up.”

“How much do you weigh?”

“135, but my chair weighs 220 lbs.”

“Heck, you would need one strong body builder to lift you in your chair!” We got into the elevator with a man, his wife and a baby stroller. “Thank you for talking to me,” he said. “You have asked some good questions. But I bet, you can’t guess what color my socks are.”

His serious face cracked a smile as I broke up in laughter. When we got off the elevator, I asked the father with the stroller if he would take our photo. He obliged happily.

“What is your name? I’m Eva.” We made our way toward the train.

“He pivoted around to reach into his “Freedom Isn’t Free” bag hanging from his handlebar. His white t-shirt was secured around him with a wide elastic band. His left pant leg fell to the floor. The train came and went. I waited as he shuffled past his bible, cell phone, pack of gum, until he felt the rubber banded pack of business cards. With his one hand, he patiently slid the top card from the tightly wound, slightly aged, rubber band, and handed it to me. It read, “Johnny T. (Tommy) Clack.” We got onto the train. “Nice to meet you Johnny.” He tucked his pant leg back under him.

“I go by Tommy.”

The name this man likes to be called should not be in parenthesis. Nothing about him is a parenthesis. I continued to read his card. “Captain US Army Retired, Combat Wounded/Vietnam May 29, 1969, Forward Observer, C/2/27 Infantry, 25th Infantry Division.  Tommy, you are one impressive man. I’m touched by your attitude. What terminal are you going to?

“Terminal D.”

“I’m going to A.”

“My life motto is on the card.”

We passed Terminal T. My stop was next. “Tommy, I’ll send you the photo. Here is a copy of my book. It was a honor to speak with you. And, about your presentation in Branson, break a leg!”

We both laughed and I got off the train, waving at him behind the window as the train quietly and quickly pulled away. I stopped to read his life motto: “Our lives are NOT determined by what happens to us but by how we react to it. A positive ATTITUDE causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. A positive ATTITUDE is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results.”

It’s an understatement to say that Tommy exuded a positive attitude. From the simple gesture of handing him his bag and starting a conversation, my life has been enhanced with a new perspective, a new light.

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About the Author:

Nationally recognized Master Storyteller Eva Grayzel, shows her audiences how to bring new business strategies to life through the power of storytelling: compelling stories to communicate the company message, role-playing stories to build teams and human stories to generate passion.  An expert on interactive storytelling techniques with 25 years’ experience, Eva’s engaging keynotes, training workshops and corporate retreats are custom-tailored to your organization.  After surviving a shocking diagnosis of late stage tongue cancer, Eva broadened her audience base speaking about the patient’s experience.  When Eva starts speaking, audiences stop looking at the clock. Her powerful survivorship story and her professional training as a performer allows her to deliver mesmerizing programs, actively engaging each member of the audience professionally and personally.  Eva is the author of ‘You Are Not Alone: Families Touched By Cancer,’ and ‘Mr. C Plays Hide & Seek.’


  1. NoWhereMan June 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    He has a great motto in life. I should learn to implement that in mine.

  2. Karen Cornell June 24, 2014 at 6:02 am - Reply

    Eva, You never cease to amaze and inspire me with your stories and life lessons!
    Like you I am attending my Father-in-laws wake(viewing) tonight and his funeral tomorrow. He stopped breathing in front of me and my husband, his son, on Saturday afternoon. I immediately started CPR , which for 35 years always prayed I would never have to use this knowledge on anyone.

    He died 6 hours later in the hospital ,age of 81. He was very much like a father to me since my Dad drowned in a boating accident in Canada when I was 5 years old. My Mom had to be moved to an assisted living facility this past Monday for she is 90 yrs old and has 2 compressions fractures , back brace and needs more care at this stage in her life than I can supply.

    I sit here writing to you with a very heavy heart , thinking about what “Tommy’s” life lesson is. I want to personally thank you for writing this story because it gave me hope.
    I have been wondering How much more I can endure with everything lately and realize that he has endured far more and has a much better attitude about life. I always strive to do better and I will try once again with the help you gave to me today.

    I am a hygienist and heard your lecture at LCCC in Naniticoke , PA.

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