WHEN DAN O’CONNOR returned injured from service as a Marine in Vietnam, the world
was a very different place.
“Back in those days, military service was something you didn‟t want to elaborate
about on your job application. A physical injury was another obstacle you had to
quietly overcome. If you had a psychological wound you wouldn‟t dream of telling
anyone about it,” recalls O‟Connor, who suffered was injured by an improvised explosive
and suffered post traumatic stress.
Getting and maintaining a civilian job was part of the battle. Luckily, O‟Connor
found an employer he could identify with when he began a career in law enforcement.
He found a greater sense of purpose when he met his wife Debbie. Between his job
and family, he stayed busy enough to avoid the emotional consequences of war.
It wasn‟t until he slowed down that he realized he needed to confront the demons
and ghosts who‟d followed him out of the jungles.
“There weren‟t a lot of programs to help us when I returned home from Vietnam. I
didn‟t want to feel like a victim or complain about the war. It took years to address
the challenges I faced. But after I did, I became concerned about my fellow veterans
who may have been in the same boat,” he said.
In 2005, one of the legs O‟Connor had injured in the war was re-injured in a motorcycle
accident and amputated.
“I didn‟t want to feel like there were things I couldn‟t do in life. Losing a leg
is one thing; I had a lot of friends who had lost limbs in Vietnam. Losing the chance
to live my life to the fullest wasn‟t acceptable to me,” he recalled.
With the help of the Veterans Administration, O‟Connor was able to get a prosthetic
leg and hand cycle. Soon, he was more physically active than before his second injury.
But seeing so many young men and women returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan
was heart-wrenching for the former Marine who didn‟t want to see them face a life
It was around that time that O‟Connor became aware of the DAV (Disabled American
Veterans) Charitable Service Trust. Through a program supported with a grant by
the charity, O‟Connor was able to participate in rehabilitative cycling events with
his fellow veterans, many who were injured in the recent wars.
“Suddenly, I found myself in the role of mentor. The younger veterans were saying,
„If that old Vietnam Veteran can do it, I can do it too,‟” said O‟Connor. “When
you see that glimmer of hope in their eyes and get the sense that a young veteran‟s
outlook on life has changed for the better, you know you‟ve changed the quality
of his or her life forever.”
O'Connor has thrived as an athlete and coach. He now introduces injured active military
and veterans to the sports he loves through a Wounded Warrior Regiment Program in
Quantico, Virginia, and has helped them compete at the national level.
“DAV welcomed me home and continues to help ensure veterans of all eras get the
support they need to live their lives to the fullest. The programs the DAV Charitable
Service Trust supports provide a blanket of support for the people who‟ve defended
our way of life,” O‟Connor said.
In addition to rehabilitative sporting events, DAV Charitable Service Trust provides
grants to programs that give hope to sick, ill and injured heroes. Those programs
link veterans to job training and assistance initiatives, fund counseling programs
and address and prevent homelessness.
“From a veterans physical health to their emotional and economic well-being, the
Trust makes is there for those who‟ve served,” O‟Connor said. “They‟ve made the
greatest commitment to our country that anyone can make. When they get hurt, we
owe it to them to give them every opportunity to live meaningful lives and care
for their families.”