More than 46 years have passed since a mortar blast in Leroy Bailey's tent took his vision and destroyed his face in Vietnam.
Despite the debilitating injury, Bailey still can enjoy some of the finer things in life, such as sinking two 20-foot putts on a sunny August afternoon.
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Bailey, 68, of LaCrosse, Indiana, was one of 10 visually impaired and blind veterans participating in Wednesday's golf outing at the Hilton's Willow Crest Golf Course in Oak Brook. The annual outing is part of the Central Blind Rehabilitation Center at Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Hospital program that helps sight-impaired veterans learn to better live with their condition.
"I did my best," the Army veteran said of his time on the links. "They said I made some putts, so that's OK. I did my best and I had fun."
The 10 golfers, all of whom are visually impaired and three of whom are blind, each were paired with a caddie. Most of the caddies are retired high school football coaches or Marines, said organizer Jack McInerney, a former football coach at Westmont and Downers Grove high schools.
"All these guys want is to be treated normally and come out and play a round of golf with the guys," McInerney said. "We've been doing it (at Willow Crest) for six years now and this trip gives them back some self-esteem they may have lost or thought they have lost."
Former Hinsdale Central High School football coach Ken Schreiner caddied for veteran Cortez Broadnax, who is blind.
"Cortez was a real breath of fresh air compared to some of the golfers I play with each week," Schreiner said. "I've asked him if he wants to be in my foursome every Thursday."
Broadnax, 72, from Joliet, said he was "without words" for the compassion, patience and camaraderie Schreiner displayed.
Evin Bodle, a 28-year-old Marine and Purple Heart recipient from Enumclaw, Washington, suffered a severe brain injury and lost his sight during an Aug. 6, 2012, attack in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Despite numerous surgeries and hospital stays, he still enjoys hitting the links.
"It's great to get away from the VA every now and then and to get away and golf it's even better," Bodle said. "This is only my third time golfing since I lost my sight and if I keep progressing the way I have been the last couple of weeks, it's looking pretty good for me. If I play like I played my last hole, I should just quit now."
Air Force veteran Ed Mikatis of Spring Valley, had a pretty good day driving the ball down the last few fairways.
"I know I'm hitting the ball and making contact, but I'm not sure it's going that far," Mikatis said. "But these guys say I'm the ringer, so I'll take it."