For Lois, Roger and Ken
“Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” This message from Saint Francis of Assisi was embodied in modern times by a quiet man of faith named Paul Linfield.
Mr. Linfield joined the Army Air Corps at the outbreak of World War II and was sent to the South Pacific as a communications officer with a rank of first lieutenant. Communications units worked behind the front lines and thus were rarely involved in combat.
As the Americans progressed through the Philippines in early 1945, however, Japanese forces launched an attack behind the front, sending paratroopers toward Lt. Linfield’s location. His unit quickly dug foxholes. Under the cover of night, a Japanese soldier threw a grenade into the foxhole where Lt. Linfield and two others crouched in darkness. One soldier was killed and a second ran away, leaving Lt. Linfield alone and badly injured. Puzzled as to why he was unable to stand up, he felt for his lower left leg and discovered that it was missing.
Despite being in shock, Lt. Linfield created a tourniquet from his rifle strap, then waited through the night for rescue. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat.
Lt. Linfield was evacuated to a mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.), where doctors performed a field amputation. Later, he was transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. There, he benefited from the presence of other young, largely healthy amputees who motivated one another to stretch their limits rather than give in to them.
Lt. Linfield’s original prosthesis was a wooden leg; although after about 25 years, improvements in technology brought new, lighter materials and better ways to support his weight. After his discharge, he occasionally had to forgo the prosthesis because of infection. During such times he would pin up his trouser leg and go to work on crutches, shocking coworkers who were unaware that his lower leg had been missing since the war.
It may have been his orthopedic doctor who first called on Mr. Linfield to visit a recent amputee. The patient was struggling with fear and uncertainty, and he wanted to speak with another amputee. Mr. Linfield agreed to the visit, although he was baffled as to how he might be of help. In characteristic humility that stemmed from his deep faith, Mr. Linfield demonstrated how to remove the prosthesis and put it back in place. He also answered the man’s many questions.
Thus began a long, quiet ministry to amputees. Some people had questions about physical issues like the healing process and the use of crutches. Others were struggling with depression as they grieved a possible loss of independence or even livelihood. Whenever he was called upon, Paul Linfield responded.
Most of Mr. Linfield’s visits were to patients who had already undergone amputation. One day, however, he received the unusual request to visit a man who was considering the surgery. Keith Mylin had been in a motorcycle accident several years earlier, which crushed his ankle and left him in constant pain. After numerous failed surgeries, doctors recommended amputation of the lower leg. Mr. Mylin refused, fearing that it would end his career as a helicopter pilot.
Years passed and Mr. Mylin’s leg worsened.
The men met at the appointed time and Mr. Linfield patiently demonstrated how to fly a helicopter with one leg. What finally convinced Mr. Mylin, however, was taking the helicopter up for a ride, then handing the controls to Mr. Linfield.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.