By TODD GLASSCOCK
On most days, Richard Calandini's dog Cricket likes to ride with him to get the mail from the mailbox. Not long ago the two would ride out in Calandini's truck to the end of the gravel drive on his farm outside of Santo.
This was before Calandini, a U.S. Army veteran, lost both legs to diabetes. Now, without the help of prosthetic limbs, Calandini rarely drives, at least until his van is modified to accommodate his disability.
But, he – and Cricket – can still ride out to the mailbox, now that he has an electric wheelchair.
He received the chair Saturday, April 12, at the Mineral Wells AMVETS meeting.
Mineral Wells AMVETS Commander Jim Vines said AMVETS was contacted by Ken Grant of Mineral Wells, who asked the group if they would like to accept an electric wheelchair on behalf of his stepfather, Paul W. Fortenberry, a Korean War veteran who died in February.
The group was happy to accept the chair, Vines said. It was a great way to help another veteran.
“You don't know how much happier I am,” Calandini said of his new wheelchair. He said he was surprised at the meeting when he received the chair. He saw it in the meeting room that Saturday and thought it might have belonged to someone else, but then, at the end of the meeting, Vines announced that Calandini was receiving the chair.
He said he would keep the tradition up and would donate the chair to another veteran after he dies.
Calandini had given his wife, Carol,, one regular wheelchair after she had back and leg surgeries that limited her mobility and he was using a chair he had bought at a garage sale. That chair had a bad tendency of getting stuck in thick sand around his home. “I couldn't go anywhere. The wheels would just spin,” he said.
Now, except for the occasional slow down in the sand, he can go everywhere with little problem. And Cricket's getting used to it too.
Calandini served with the 16th Signal Battalion from 1960 to 1963 and was in the reserves until 1966. Although he didn't end up getting sent to Vietnam, he did serve in Germany and was deployed during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, when the Soviets sent out an ultimatum to the West to withdraw all troops from West Germany. The crisis culminated in the erection of the Berlin Wall which divided communist East Germany from democratic West Germany until the wall was taken down in 1989.
Calandini thought he might end up being sent to fight in Vietnam, but never was called up. “I thought I should have been there.”
“I was glad he missed all of it,” his wife said. The couple has been married for 49 years.
After the service, he and his wife and children returned to Texas, where he went to school at Tarrant County Junior College and studied mechanical engineering. He was unable to complete his associate's degree because funding from the government ran out.
He worked for a little more than two years at Bell Helicopter, although he wasn't very fond of the job because it reminded him too much of the Army.
He then worked as a machinist in Mineral Wells and Weatherford, before starting to farm.
“What I hate is that I can't get on my tractor anymore,” he said of losing his legs. He does grow onions in flower pots to keep busy.
He also misses hunting and fishing.
But, with a lot of faith and a lot of love from his family, his friends, and his wife, he keeps going. And, it's possible, if you happen to be driving down County Road 140 in Erath County, you might spot him riding with Cricket in his lap in his new chair ready to check the mail.