My family has a long history of service. My grandfather served in the Civil War, one of his sons served in World War I and my father, Francis Coyne, was drafted during World War II to inspect boots going to the troops overseas.
By 1957, I was 15 and knew I wanted to go into the Navy as my brother Ben had during the Korean War, but a bad car accident seemed like it would stop me.
On a cold January morning, a friend’s father was towing us and the tow bar came undone - putting my side of the car into a cement bridge.
When I awoke after the accident, my mother and brother were there, as well as a priest who was giving me my last rites. They said I’d never walk again. I’d split my kneecap in five places, and my femur broke and came right out of the skin. I had bad facial cuts along my jaw and the bridge of my nose.
The closest place for physical therapy was in Saco, about 15 miles away. I was on crutches and we didn’t have a car. Through sun, rain and snow - whatever - I hitchhiked once and sometimes twice a week both ways for almost two years to get stronger so I could join the Navy.
When I graduated high school, I was walking with a cane. They’d taken the rod out of my hip and taken the wire out that had been holding my kneecap together. I checked with the Navy.
They said to give it another six months.
During this waiting period, I worked. I checked with the Navy again and they said to wait six more months.
I said, “What does the Army say?”
The Army said I could go the next day. So I did.
I had to be careful of my knee, but I would not quit. I even served in Turkey from 1962-1963. I thank the military for making me a better man, even today.