While the veterans of World War II were greeted as heroes, instead of parades, the veterans of the Vietnam War were welcomed by the American public in a very different way. Many veterans were mistreated—called rude names and even spat upon. The public was sick of the War and took out their hatred of the highly unpopular conflict on the patriots who were unlucky enough to return alive.
That War savaged our young heroes. Over 150,000 came back as wounded or amputees. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) afflicted 700,000—a medical problem that was only recognized by the Veteran’s Administration in 1979. The lack of employment, crime and depression led to 100,000 suicides.
It is within this appalling frame of mind that As Wings Unfurl creates a reluctant hero out of a Vietnam War veteran. Applegate Bogdanski is missing a lower limb as a result of what he believes was his own miscalculation that further led to the deaths of a number of his fellow soldiers. He returns home burdened with guilt and an addiction to pain-killers. He finds a dead-end job and waits for a drug-besotted end to arrive. But something rather unexpected happens to change everything.
A disabled hero is a bit unusual to find in a science fiction story. That is not to say the trope has not appeared in the entertainment media. There are a number of examples. The Six Million Dollar Man TV series comes to mind, as does Geordi LaForge (Star Trek Next Generation). And there are others. However, most of these characters have something in common—their handicap is usually overcome with technology, or somehow becomes a major asset (like in the X-Men). That’s the beauty of Science Fiction. We rarely encounter a hero who ignores the handicap.
I lived through the so-called Vietnam Era. Although I was fortunate to have served at home in the National Guard and Army Reserves, I knew many who went abroad, and many who never returned. Maybe it was the way those veterans were treated that gave rise to Applegate, the hero in As Wings Unfurl. Maybe it was time for a story about an individual’s redemption from a dark chapter in our history.
Apple (his nickname) is not special. He has no super powers. He has no extraordinary talents or mechanical exoskeleton or telepathic powers. Quite the contrary, he is a broken human being, both physically and mentally. He has no family and no prospects. Tortured by a survivor’s guilt, each day he sinks deeper into a morphine-induced stupor. He knows the end is coming and like many other veterans, he looks forward to its arrival.
What walks into his life is nothing short of a miracle. Angela claims to be his guardian angel, but of course, she’s no angel. She brings with her a revelation, sweeping up the two of them in a monumental conspiracy which will test Apple’s determination to survive. He will need to rise above his addiction and depression, and place his trust with this strange woman. Thus, the story of As Wings Unfurl unfolds, but that’s enough of a tease.
This post originally appeared on SciFi and Scary (http://www.scifiandscary.com/disabled-hero-arthur-m-doweyko/)