Bill Caywood never played golf before shipping off to Vietnam in 1969. When shrapnel from an enemy booby trap claimed part of his right leg, he never dreamed of competing with other disabled veterans one day.
But that changed in 2018 when a recreational therapist at the Indianapolis VA told him about the National Disabled Veterans Golf Clinic. He recalls enjoying the event so much that in 2019, his return was not in question.
"There's a lot of camaraderie between all the veterans regardless of our injuries, what branch of service, when they served or where they served," said Caywood. "We all share a common bond, and we're there to try to improve our golf game."
What he didn't expect was to be named the event's first-ever DAV Freedom Award recipient, a distinction presented
to the veteran that most embodies the tournament's spirit.
"It really was an honor," he said. "There were 200 other people in the audience, and any one of them would deserve it."
Caywood credits his son with getting him into golf later in life. At 12, he took an interest in the sport and the father-son duo learned to dodge the water hazards and sand traps together.
Despite having all f
our extremities peppered with shrapnel decades ago, and the loss of his right leg amputated below the knee, Caywood set his sights on golf along with other adaptive sports. He has participated in over 10 National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinics in Snowmass, Colorado.
"I was apprehensive when I tried [skiing], but then once I got the hang of it, it became fun – even life-altering," Caywood said in 2018.
In the years following his injury, Caywood found a home at DAV, not just with adaptive sports. He served as a DAV national service officer for 15 years, helping his fellow disabled veterans secure the benefits they've earned in military service.
While he hung his hat up as a professional veterans benefits advocate, Caywood remains an avid golfer and example of what is possible later in life, even after enduring a grave injury in service to one's nation.
To his fellow veterans, he said the golf clinic is all about fostering community and uplifting one another.
"Enjoy the camaraderie and relax and have fun with it while you're learning," he said. "No matter what our skill levels are, we're all there to try to improve."