Posted at 3:03 p.m., Feb. 12, 2015

Frederick Downs

Vietnam veteran:

While Fred Downs worked as the director of the Prosthetics and Sensory Aids Services, the budget was increased to provide $1.9 million disabled vets with assistive aids.

Courtesy Photo

Dinneen Writers Series
to feature Vietnam vet, author

When the going gets tough, the tough raise hell.

Fred Downs, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, is walking proof that great obstacles can be overcome with perseverance. In 1967, at the age of 23, he encountered a “Bouncing Betty” mine while leading an ambush in Vietnam, which resulted in severe wounds and the amputation of part of his left arm. After having been in Vietnam for four months as the leader of First Platoon, Delta Company, in the U.S. Army’s Third Brigade, Fourth Division, he found his life had changed forever.

Downs recovered from his amputation in Aurora, Colorado. His young wife came to visit him, but the stress of the situation soon led to divorce. However, a few months later at an officers’ club, he met the woman who would become his wife of more than 40 years, Mary. He earned an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Denver.

Although he experienced success working in the private sector, it was unfulfilling.

He decided to work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and became the director of the Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Services (PSAS) in 1980. During that time, the department had an extremely poor budget and could not come close to meeting the needs of the disabled veterans.

Downs, a disabled veteran himself, was disturbed by the lack of quality assistance in the department. He took it upon himself to champion for the increase in funding for these vets so they could receive the care they needed and deserved.

He said, “I raised a lot of hell, and I spoke out because it was needed.”

Today, the budget has grown from a measly $140,000 a year to more than $2 billion and provides assistive aids to 1.9 million disabled vets.

On Thursday, March 12, at 7 p.m., the cultural series for authors, the Dinneen Writers Series, sponsored through the Laramie County Community College Foundation, will feature Downs in a presentation at the Laramie County Library in the Cottonwood Room. At this free event Downs will share his experiences and life lessons with his presentation.

“Lessons learned as a combat leader prepared me for leadership issues in the VA,” he said.

Downs will speak about overcoming obstacles, personal and professional leadership skills and self-worth.

Lisa Trimble, director of alumni affairs and event planning for the LCCC Foundation said, “Here in Cheyenne, we have a military presence with Warren Air Force Base, and much of our student body will be able to appreciate what Downs has gone through and what he has accomplished.”

He has written three books that speak of his experiences: “The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War”; “Aftermath: A Soldier's Return from Vietnam”; and “No Longer Enemies, Not Yet Friends: An American Soldier Returns to Vietnam.” He has been featured in several magazine articles and television specials. Last year he appeared on “60 Minutes” to showcase a breakthrough in the world of prosthetics, the DEKA Arm, which is coined as the “Luke Arm,” after the character Luke Skywalker in “Return of the Jedi” who has a futuristic arm.

LCCC: The Dinneen Writers Series presents Fred Downs

CBS "60 Minutes"
"Trying a new arm on for size"

W.W. Norton & Company Inc.: Frederick Downs Jr.