Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Old soldiers expect word to be followed by action



By Cliff Radel
Enquirer staff writer

Struggling to be heard above a recording of "The Stars & Stripes Forever," William McNair sat on a motorized scooter and counted his souvenirs from the Korean War.

Right foot. Gone.

Left foot. Missing toes.

Fingers. "Falling off one by one," he said Monday.

"I'm falling apart," said the 73-year-old from Chelsea, Ala. He adjusted himself in his scooter. Then, he fiddled with the tube leading from his nose to an on-board oxygen tank. "I've got lung trouble and diabetes."

He had just parked his vehicle on the main floor of the Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center. He staked out a spot to see President Bush and hear his speech.

ONLINE EXTRAS
Bush visit photo gallery
Video: President Bush's VFW speech  9 WCPO
Complete text of speech
MORE COVERAGE
I've worked for you, Bush tells veterans
Old soldiers expect word to be followed by action
Bush avoids demonstrators
Davis shares Bush spotlight
Powell: Reassigning troops is necessary
Powell, Bush tour Freedom Center
• Editorial: Serve veterans who have served us
"My hands and feet got frostbitten in Korea in 1953," McNair said.

"I was a raw recruit, guarding Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war."

He tried putting his hands in his armpits. To keep his feet warm, he followed his fellow soldiers' lead. "We'd sit down and put our feet between the legs of the guy in front of you. It worked for everybody else."

But not for McNair. His hands and feet turned bright red. But he soldiered on until he was discharged in 1954.

For 36 years, McNair worked as an upholsterer. Then he experienced a delayed reaction from the frostbite.

"I had to retire in 1990," he said. "My hands stopped working. I couldn't pull the material tight anymore. Then, I lost my foot in '01 and my fingers started falling off in '03."

The old soldier heard the president say, "Serving veterans is one of the highest priorities of my administration."

That reminded McNair of going to the Veterans hospital. "They don't have any of the new medicine."

"I take this antibiotic twice a day," he said. "It costs $56 for just one pill."

McNair said he liked the message of Bush's speech. But he was unsure about him "getting the job done in Washington, D.C." for veterans.

"Remember this," he said. "A politician knows what to say when and where he needs to say it."

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E-mail cradel@enquirer.com



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PRESIDENT BUSH'S VISIT
I've worked for you, Bush tells veterans
Old soldiers expect word to be followed by action
Bush avoids demonstrators
Davis shares Bush spotlight
Powell: Reassigning troops is necessary
Powell, Bush tour Freedom Center

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