Memorial Day will mark the fifth year for the Memorial Golf Day for Blind and Disabled Veterans held at Westwood Golf Course. The event was founded by Hank Britton, a legally blind vet who served for nine years in the Navy.
Britton got the idea after participating in the National Veterans Training Exposure Experience Tournament in Iowa City.
“When I hit my first golf ball, and everybody just started clapping and going on about ‘how well it was hit’ and ‘how well I could do,’ I was just impressed,” Britton said. “That day I got my life back.”
Britton said he was inspired by himself to start this tournament for blind and disabled vets.
“I was perfectly healthy in July of that year and I noticed a twist out of the corner of my eye, it was like the light was bent,” Britton said. “(At the clinic) they told me there was a good chance I wouldn’t see Christmas that year.”
In addition to his deteriorating vision he said also began to experience severe physical health problems as well. Britton said that he had tumors on his spine, has trouble with his mobility and that his kidneys failed around this time frame.
“Just a grocery list of different things that happened in that period of six months,” Britton said. “I never let my family see it, but you can’t have all that stuff happen to you at one time and not let it affect you.”
Britton credited his vision impairment coordinator at the VA for picking up on his hidden depression and telling him about the TEE Tournament.
“I realized that even with all the impairments that I’ve got I can still do anything that there is left in the world to do,” Britton said on the impact of that tournament. “My life wasn’t over and I didn’t have to pray to die anymore. It was wonderful.”
“I saw how much good it had done for me and I wanted to give that on to other vets,” Britton said. “If I could just help one or two to get to the point where I was, it was worth it. You go a long ways from praying to God that you die in your sleep to a point where you have more reason to live than you have had in your whole life. That’s a big step.”
Last year 44 veterans participated along with 17 volunteers who also serve as “golf buddies.” Golf buddies go through to special training on how to properly work with blind and disabled people as to not cause harm or offense. They also serve as eyes, ears, legs or any other appendage needed to aid that veteran in their game.
Britton also said that Westwood has been very accommodating over the years and allows the vets to share clubs if necessary, which is normally against club rules.
Sign-in is from 8 to 9 a.m. and a special flag raising ceremony featuring “Ron the Bagpiper” will take place directly afterwards and the public is invited to come. This year, 33 vets are signed up and Britton encourages more vets and volunteers to sign up and the cost is absolutely free thanks to private donations.
“I would really like to see the city and the community get behind this,” Britton said. “We have live heroes here who need to be honored.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.