Douglas Bader was a British fighter pilot who lost both legs in a flying accident in 1931, but still went on to become one of Britain’s most important aces in World War II. Flying with two artificial legs, he was credited with shooting down twenty-two German planes while leading his squadron and participating in the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, and other air battles. In 1941 his plane crashed after colliding with a Messerschmitt and he was taken prisoner. He spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war, but his lack of legs did not stop him from making unsuccessful escape attempts. Following World War II he spent a great deal of time visiting veterans hospitals around the world. He was knighted for his work with the disabled; the quote above is from a conversation he had with a fourteen-year-old boy who had lost a leg after a car accident.
Bader was born in London; his father, Frederick, was a civil engineer who worked all over the world. Frederick Bader died in 1922 from wounds incurred during his service in the British Army during World War I. Always a rebel, Douglas Bader became a pilot against the wishes of his family. The accident that resulted in both his legs being amputated was the result of foolish acrobatics; one leg was amputated below the knee, one above the knee. None of his doctors expected the 21-year-old pilot to survive, much less fly again.
Although he wished to resume flying, he was forced out of the Royal Air Force in 1933, and spent the next six years at a desk job. After World War II began, he successfully reapplied to the Royal Air Force. Soon after, he made a stupid technical mistake and crashed for the second time, but escaped injury. Following the second crash he became not only an ace in his own right, but a leading strategist of air warfare and an inspirational leader to the men he lead in battle.
He married in 1935, four years after losing his legs. When, after thirty-seven years of marriage, his first wife died, he remarried. At his death the man with two tin legs was eulogized as a legendary war hero.