(PHOTO BY TIMOTHY KAYS, STAFF)
(Story originally appeared June 27, 2018)
By: Timothy Kays
Winston Churchill made famous the words, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” David and Linda Armstrong are the living epitomes of that 1941 Churchill speech, and Multiple Sclerosis will be hard pressed to shake them away from those convictions.
A lifelong resident of Wauseon and a member of the WHS Class of 1962, David served America straight out of high school. “I went into the Air Force right after school in September,” he said. “I graduated in May, and went into the Air Force in September.”
“I was on the main street right in front of a hamburger joint that we always went to when I heard the news on the radio that President Kennedy had been shot. We went on alert; nobody got passes to go anywhere the rest of that day, and when they found out what had happened, things did slow down, but yeah…that was quite a shock.”
Linda Andrews Armstrong is also a native of the same neck of the woods, but after years of grade school, her ordinary routine was to be changed dramatically in high school by a persistent pest who insisted on getting her attention. “It was our freshman year,” David said.
“I came from Pike eighth grade school in Winnameg where I attended for eight years. Then I came to Wauseon. My wife’s last name is Andrews. So she’s an A and I’m an A. So I sat right behind her, and I started pestering her as a freshman from that day on. I pestered her until our senior year.”
“I pestered her again the first day of school and she finally said, yes. So it’s been that way ever since 1961 when we started dating, and now it’s what? 2018? Wow! she rejected me for three years, but I still pestered her every day anyway. Then I went into the military. I was in Virginia two years and decided to get married. We got married and had our first child just a year before I got discharged. David got his discharge in 1966.”
Linda’s view of history was similar, but held a different perspective. “He pestered me so much,” Linda said. “Can I carry your books? No, just leave me alone…please! We talked to each other, but I just never wanted to go out with him, and actually, when I finally accepted, I thought I’d go one time.”
“We found out that we liked each other, and we’re happy that we did, but I was just busy. I was in sports…just busy. I thought that he only wanted me for my money. So we’re really high school sweethearts.”
Looking back on his time in the military, David said, “I spent all four years right there at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. It’s the same base as where the CIA headquarters is at. I’d tell people that I sit in the cockpit of an F-15 jet fighter, a B-52 bomber, and a C-130 cargo plane.”
“They’d ask where did I fly to, and I said I never flew in a military plane. I SAT in the cockpit because we had air shows, and the public could come in and wander through the whole plane. They could go up, and sit in the captain’s chair…whatever they wanted to do. That was 1962 and 63. It don’t happen that way today I think.”
“I was assigned to a missile site out in the boondocks, hidden in the woods that was Air Defense Command. Our missiles were to protect Washington DC, New York and anything on the East Coast. There was two types of missiles that we had. My job was to maintain, temperature wise, each building. Each building had to be 68 to 72 degrees year round, We had heat; we had air conditioning.”
“My job was to maintain the boilers, and I did that the four years that I was there. I lucked out by not having to go overseas. I volunteered for different places, cold places, just so I could move around, but no such luck. Most of the people told me that now that I’m getting married, they’ll probably send you out soon as you get your wife down here.”
Once he was discharged, David had to find a way to support his family. “I came home, and a friend of mine just started a new delivery service for Mustang Corporation – The Expositor – when they had the printing presses right here,” he recalled. “So I got a job. He hired me for delivering the newsprint and to run all the way up into Detroit, run all around and spot deliver the newspaper for all the communities back in those days.”
“I worked for him for two years and just wasn’t making the money I thought I could. Linda’s brother in law worked at BF Goodrich Tire Company, and he said, ‘we’re hiring.’ I worked there building the tires, and then worked in processing. I spent five years there, and that was just too much inside for me.”
“I like the freedom of being out on my own, basically. We had moved to Paulding, and we spent five years in Paulding. I was there five years and went through three different strikes…two contract strikes, and a wildcat strike. You lose way too much money going on strike; you never make it up.”
So, What did David mean by, “…too much inside?” He needed to get out into the world, and he knew just how to go about it. “I always wanted to drive semi,” he said. “I drove small trucks through the years with Mustang, so I started checking around. My dad told me about this one guy that had a trucking company, so I called him and asked him if he had any work for me, and he said yes.”
“I went and took a trial run with them. He hired me sight unseen, took me out one time with his other drivers, taught me how to drive a semi, and I learned by on the job training. So then I wound up driving truck for 17 years for the foundry here in Wauseon…a dirty, dirty place.
“He sold the business, and they hired on all new people. My cousin needed somebody to help him out in his trucking business for a few weeks. A few weeks became 11 years, and he sold the business to another company. That company needed more help in the office, so that’s when I started working in dispatch and billing. They got into financial problems.”
“The new company told me that they’re gonna have to move my billing job back into the Cleveland headquarters, and I’d have to get back in the truck and drive full time, which they knew I couldn’t do. That’s when I went on disability…in 2002. I was diagnosed with MS in 1993, but it didn’t shut me down until after 2000, something like that.”
The battle with the debilitating disease was on, but David and Linda were up to the challenge. “I applied for disability, and received it the first time around, and after that everything just started getting slower, slower and slower,” David said. “That’s when I got connected up with the VA. They made me an appointment with a doctor down in Toledo at the VA clinic to assess me and see what was available for me.”
“So through the years they have they asked me if there was something I needed, and I would say how about a hospital bed and a shower chair, which is a PVC wheelchair I can roll in and roll out in a chair rather than have to step over something. There were numerous things that they supplied to me, and Medicare purchased me a power wheelchair, which was for in the house.”
“All it did was move me from point A to point B. It had no other accessories. So after having that chair for four or five years, Medicare said that I was eligible to reapply for a new one. Well the VA said that they could do the same thing, but the VA asked me what I would like on it.” David’s answer was an elevation system. His chair uses an electric motor and hydraulics to control a scissor jack system that lifts his seat, which allows him to see over the fences at the baseball diamonds when his grandson is playing for the Indians.
The elevator seat made David a local celebrity when a Toledo television crew followed him out to the ballpark and captured him watching from his catbird seat. The story became a minor viral sensation, but Linda said that they had a specific reason for doing the story.
“It was mainly to give the VA credit,” she said. “To let people know that the VA is good. You hear so much bad about the VA, but we can only say good about the VA. Maybe in different states, and who knows the reason for it, but they have been very, very good to us. How much did the chair cost David? “I never see any dollar amounts,” he said. “I go on the internet and see that through the company this is probably around anywhere from $5,000 to $6,000, and maybe more. And they maintain it also.”
David is a man who values his independence, which is one of the first things that MS tries to steal. Linda has always been a huge help, but after two back surgeries, she sometimes needs an assist herself. David was still able to get around with his specially equipped van.
“Thirty years driving truck…I’m pretty experienced with traffic, how traffic runs and defensive driving; most of my driving was defense. I felt comfortable doing that. I told the family I said when time comes that I can’t drive anymore safely, you won’t have to take my keys away from me…I’ll know it.” “In 2014,” Linda said, “…he gave up driving, so now I’m the taxi driver.” He’s also got a lot of friends that will come over, pick him up, and take him to the games, or wherever he needs to go.
“He has a wonderful attitude about it,” Linda said of her husband. “It is hard, and it means a lot to have family and friends around to support you, but we just want people to know to don’t give up. You just gotta keep moving. Yes, it’s a struggle, but life is a struggle…you’ve got to keep a positive attitude.” Part of that positive attitude is taking life day by day, and being grateful for the same.
When asked if he has any big things coming up in the future that he’s looking forward to, David said simply, “Tomorrow…whatever tomorrow brings. I just got a first great-grandchild a month ago. We’ve got the youngest grandchild is 11, and the oldest is 28, and the other ones haven’t got married yet, but I’m looking forward to expanding the family and being around.”
“I say sometimes that I wonder what I’m doing here, but when they open the door, they come running to you and jump on your lap, and give you a hug and a kiss, no matter how old they are…we’re staying in. We’re staying with it, so look forward to tomorrow.”
David’s message to you, the kind reader, is a life lesson in its own right. “Don’t give up. Have a positive attitude. Always think that there’s worse off situations all around you, and accept the help that people offer. Not that you expect it, but people want to help you, and that’s a tough thing for me because I can get I can get it done in 15 minutes. It’s going to take someone to help me 30 seconds to have it done, so accept that help.”
“There’s people out there that will help you, and want to help you, but they don’t know how. So whenever they offer, accept it. I think that’s been the toughest thing for me to accept, is that people are out there that want to help you. If you don’t let them do that, then it’s just harder on you yourself.”
“You draw your own strength down by struggling to get these things done, but in the same respect, it makes my mind feel like I’m accomplishing something at least. Never give up. God will protect me. He knows best; He’s got my life lined all up. I don’t know what it is, but we’ll accept it as it goes.”
“It was difficult for him to accept help getting in the car when he was still driving; it was very hard,” Linda said. “Our Bible study friends told us, ‘You know, you’re taking away their blessing. It’s a blessing to you to have them help you, but it’s a blessing for them to help you. And we never thought of it that way. I think that helped David especially. So you’ve got to put yourself in other people’s place.”
MS is a cruel disease, but it met its match when it went after David and Linda Armstrong. Lance Armstrong made ‘Live Strong’ a household phrase. David and Linda make it real…every day, every hour, every minute and every second. If he could persistently pester his future wife every day for three years a half century ago, then it’s a given that he’s got plenty in the tank to battle against MS.
Timothy can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org