Heroes come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but for a lot of people the word has been overused. However, there are some people who become an inspiration to others, in spite of the circumstances they find themselves in. They are people who just seem to refuse to quit. For some reason they seem to be the eternal optimist.
At twenty one years old Douglas Bader’s legs were amputated when he was badly injured when his RAF plane crashed in 1931. The wing clipped the ground while the young Douglas was performing a low level roll, before landing.
Douglas however, refused to give up. He demanded some aluminum alloy artificial legs, (prosthese) and learned to drive a car, play tennis and golf and fly a plane, in spite of Douglas having no legs. Though discharged medically from the RAF, by 1939, Douglas was reinstated to the RAF, after a seven year gap. It was World War 11 and pilots were desperately needed.
The indomitable and legless pilot was handed the challenge of become the Acting Squadron Leader of the battle weary and despondent 242 Hurricane Squadron. In their first mission alone, they shot down 12 German planes. From that time the Squadron never looked back. Bader quickly earned himself the reputation of being an ace pilot and a terror to the Germans. He was among the group of pilots who provided cover to the defeated British army, at Dunkirk.
Baden’s luck ran out, however, on August 9th 1941, when he was forced to bail out of his plane, legless, over occupied France. He was caught by the Germans, then recaptured again, after managing to escape from a hospital unit. This time he had his new artificial legs taken off him. He was bundled off to the high security Colditz Prison, where he became a driving force for the other prisoners, until his release in 1945. Bador led his men in a flypast commemorating the end of the war, on September 15th 1945.
Baden survived the war and was not only awarded the DSO for extraordinary leadership, but also the DFC and the Legion D’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre. In 1976 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his service to amputees.
Baden became a legend in his own lifetime with his well known advice like, “Never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult, or impossible. Don’t listen to any one who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense, make up your own mind, then have a go for everything”.
The British biographical film, ‘Reach For The Sky’, immortalized his life. It starred Kenneth Moore, as Douglas. The movie showed that problems are merely something to be resolved and that challenges are simply Blue Moon (once in a lifetime) Opportunities to grow. The film won the BAFTA Award for Best British Film of 1956. Captain Bader died in 1982.