FROM READERS: Vietnam veteran's injuries endured with inspiring dignity

Friday, May 25, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:23 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 26, 2012
Kenny Hunt with Budweiser, at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center.

Roy Robinson is retired from State Farm Insurance and is a member of the Missourian's Readers Board. He was inspired to tell his cousin Kenny's story when he read Gale Thompson's account of his long and interesting life, also published in the From Readers section.

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My cousin, Kenny Hunt, was born and raised in Southwest Missouri. He graduated from Springfield Central High School and attained a degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University. He married and got a job with Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Within a year, Kenny was drafted into the Army. On a combat patrol July 8, 1968, just 8 days after arriving in Vietnam, he was seriously injured. There was speculation about whether Kenny was injured by a land mine or mortar round, and he suffered a brain injury and shrapnel throughout his body.

Kenny was flown to the Army Hospital at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.  Kenny’s parents, Jerry and Julius Hunt, and I went to Texas to see Kenny on Labor Day. I was amazed that he had gone from about 190 pounds before his injuries to about 120 pounds in less than two months.

His injuries were too numerous to comprehend. The primary concern was his virtual vegetative state. He could not communicate and was in serious danger. He was later transferred to the VA hospital in St. Louis. His family could visit him there and see some progress, but he was left a quadriplegic.

His wife subsequently divorced him and his parents took over the responsibility of caring for him. He was transferred again for treatment to the VA hospital in Wichita, Kan.

Kenny’s dad’s employment moved them to Jasper, Texas. They constructed a very nice handicapped accessible home for Kenny. When they could not physically handle the day to day care of Kenny, they employed caregivers. When adequate assistance was no longer available, the Hunts decided that Kenny’s care could be best handled by placing him in a nursing facility. Eventually they placed Kenny in a very nice nursing facility in San Augustine, Texas. The Hunts built a home across the road from the nursing home to be more available to Kenny.

In August of 2008, Kenny’s dad passed away. His mother, Jerry, decided that it would be wise for them to relocate to Columbia to be closer to my wife and I. We moved Jerry and Kenny to Columbia in November 2008. Kenny’s move was much easier than I anticipated. I simply googled “handicapped transportation” and located a company in Florida that made these long moves. We were able to get Kenny into the Truman VA hospital. They actually picked Kenny up in a motor home at noon in Texas and drove him straight to Columbia. The move was thankfully uneventful.

The last three years have really been an improvement for Kenny. The staff at the VA hospital are remarkable. His care has been the best since his injuries.

We were able to purchase a beautiful Honda van converted for Kenny’s wheelchair, with assistance from the VA. This provides the opportunity to get Kenny out frequently for trips to area restaurants, picnics and family gatherings at our house. Kenny has greatly benefited from the Veteran’s program at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding. Those types of activities have greatly enhanced his quality of life.

I frequently think about the reason that Kenny survived terrible injuries in Vietnam. I choose to believe that he is here to be an inspiration to everyone. He simply chooses to be “happy," and he makes other people feel better as well.

I doubt that many people would have endured his difficulties with the dignity and class that Kenny continues to exhibit. He really represents what is best in humanity.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's howSupervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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